15 August 2007 | Antony Barton
Supermarket supply chains face renewed scrutiny today after it was discovered workers for one sub-contractor had to "scavenge for food" to live on when their gangmaster withheld their pay for 35 days.
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has revoked the licence of Baltic Work Team (BWT) with immediate effect after it found 40 Bulgarian vegetable pickers and packers were being mistreated.
BWT had its licence "revoked" earlier in the year without immediate effect, but at the appeal hearing it was allowed to continue trading until 24 August 2007. The GLA said a second investigation found a "significant threat" to the health and welfare of the workers, which led to the instant invalidation of the licence. This means BWT must stop trading immediately or face prosecution.
Paul Whitehouse, chairman of the GLA, said: "Revoking a licence with immediate effect is a serious decision and is only taken when we find significant non-compliance.
"It is unacceptable the workers were left to scavenge the fields for food as they had not been paid for 35 days. It was only through the intervention of the GLA that the workers finally got their money."
BWT was employed by another gangmaster, which was contracted by Tesco and Morrisons' supplier Southern England Farms (SEF). The director of BWT denies the allegations. SEF said it was a responsible employer that checked its agencies paid correctly. Morrisons said it took the issues very seriously and used reputable suppliers. Tesco said it expected all its suppliers to meet strict, independently-audited criteria for labour standards and to manage their agencies and non-permanent workforce responsibly.