The UK government has announced a number of measures to bolster work to tackle modern slavery including increasing the powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and introducing a new criminal offence of aggravated breach of labour market legislation.
The measures, which follow a public consultation, also include establishing a new director of labour market enforcement to oversee the relevant agencies – comprising HM Revenue & Customs, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI) and the GLA – and encouraging intelligence sharing between them.
As part of the changes the GLA will also be renamed the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and it will be given investigatory powers in England and Wales to help it tackle labour exploitation in all sectors.
The organisation will continue to licence labour providers in the fresh produce supply chain but will be able to force any businesses, in which there is a reasonable belief that a labour market offence has been committed, to take steps to prevent further offending.
If a business fails to comply, the GLA, HMRC or the EASI can apply to a court for an enforcement order. Breach of an order will be a criminal offence and could result in a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
“This reflects the seriousness of such offences and will deter unscrupulous employers from committing any deliberate and persistent breaches of labour law, while offering workers better protection from exploitation,” said the government.
The GLA’s chief executive Paul Broadbent said the proposals marked a significant opportunity for the organisations to focus more closely on the worst examples of labour abuses in the UK.
“The public support of our work provides us with renewed enthusiasm to continue our efforts to protect workers in the UK,” he added.
The consultation document received 93 responses from a range of charities, labour providers and statutory organisations.
“The majority of respondents agreed with the government’s position that more needed to be done to tackle the more serious cases of labour market exploitation,” said the government.
The measures will be included in the Immigration Bill, which is currently passing through parliament.