• Ian Japp
Location:
Edinburgh
Date:
Wednesday 6th May 2009
Reference:
SWI2009/002

Ian:

It’s very difficult in the North of Scotland to associate with the word ‘gangmaster’. It originally derives from the fields in Lincolnshire where the person who organised field labour was the gangmaster for that. The organisation I work for is the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, but a lot of the time we prefer to use the words that the person who is the gangmaster is the ‘labour provider’. And this labour provider provides workers to an end labour user. That can be from somebody who provides five workers to work in a field or it may even be supplying, say, four hundred workers to work in a large fish processing factory up in the north of Scotland. It means that a lot of times that people are used to supply temporary need for a business, because it may be the fact that they have peaks and troughs in their business, the run up to Christmas or something like that, and they may need additional workers. However, we certainly also have labour providers who actually provide a fifty-two week a year service to some businesses who don’t want to have to go through the bother of having to do the recruitment process themselves. So that is basically what a gangmaster is. We prefer to use the word ‘labour provider’.

Simon:

So does it include agencies?

     

Ian:

Yes, it does. We have over twelve hundred people who have become licensed since the first of October 2006. To work in the sectors that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority regulate ... I’ll just tell you what that is. It’s the agriculture sector, horticulture, the processing of anything produced from agriculture to horticulture, first part of process if you follow me, fish processing and it also covers forestry. And as such we also come under the parent government authority, DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs). But we cover these things so ... we’ve got twelve hundred licenses and these can be from a high street agency, which has perhaps fifty branches in the UK, and it can be down to one man that has a van and goes round and picks up his four friends who he employs and supplies them to somebody who needs people to come in and deal with a field of carrots or something like that. It can be as small as that or it can be as large as people with multi-million pound turnovers.

Simon:

So with the agencies, are they also international?

     

Ian:

Well, what we’re finding is a lot of the workers who’re actually working for gangmasters are not so much indigenous workers. A lot of them are actually migrant workers coming into the UK, particularly from the A8 and the A2 states which have come in since 2004, and what we’re actually finding is a lot of the agencies now in the Eastern European countries are actually applying for a UK Gangmaster’s License, to supply workers to businesses here. So it is going to international spectrums, it’s just really ... We’ve also had one who wanted to be based in Hong Kong and supply workers in the UK, so it is quite international.

Simon:

Do these agencies ...? I guess to fill that question out a bit more, you’ve already talked in terms of procuring employees, do they have a role beyond that?

     

Ian:

Well, what we are looking for is that the gangmaster or labour provider is just that, he’s the employer. He’s the employer of the worker. Although they’re supplying to somebody else, we’re looking for a relationship to ensure that somebody takes control of Health and Safety for those workers in the workplace. We’d look that the labour provider, the gangmaster, would certainly know what the workers are doing, to ensure that the workers being supplied have whatever skills that are required for the job. We’d need to ensure that there’s an induction process so that nobody just gets handed a knife and told: “Tuck those leeks in a field,” and various other things. There are quite a lot of things. What we’re also doing is to ensure that he’s responsible in terms that if the workers need personal protective equipment, that that’s supplied to them free of charge. We’re looking to ensure that he’s looking after them as best he can, more than anything else, and that he’s providing them with at least national minimum wage and, if they’re working in a field, at least agricultural minimum wage.

 

It’s quite good in Scotland at the moment, it’s about £5.73 an hour for someone aged over twenty one. It’s not much but it’s what the national minimum wage is and that’s what the majority people that we regulate are all being paid. Under agricultural minimum wage, they’re entitled to overtime. Under national minimum wage there unfortunately is no overtime. So that’s the kind of things. Historically we’ve also had gangmasters who provide the transport to get people to their place of employment. We need to check that is safe and roadworthy and they’re not being crammed in the back of a van. These days if you’re transporting people about they’re required to have proper seats and seatbelts and things like that. Likewise, we have a lot of instances where labour providers provide accommodation. Here in Scotland, if it’s for more than three workers in a house, it’s got to be considered whether it’s a house of multiple occupancy. We’re supposed to ensure that they’re not being overcharged for their accommodation. There are innumerable things that we’re involved in and these all come into the general licensing standards of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority which we test people on before we give them a license.

Simon:

Can you give some examples specific to the North East?

     

Ian:

Well, what we have ... if I can just say, a lot of the farm workers are usually seasonal. Even fishing, it’s a different ... I mean, the fish that comes in for processing and things like that, you know? So that’s why we say we’ve got peaks and troughs. If we can take it that ... just recently in the North East, what we’ve actually had is daffodil pickers. We’ve got a group, a collective, of farmers based in North Angus and part of Aberdeenshire who grow daffodils in the field and get people in to pick. Now these same people actually start in January down in Cornwall where the season is far earlier and they follow the crop North. Historically they usually go from Cornwall to Lincolnshire and up North to the North East of Scotland. This year, because of climatic problems, they actually missed out Lincolnshire and came straight up. So that’s the type of issue we’ve got. We’re now going away into the situation regarding soft fruit in agriculture and we have so many poly-tunnels that no longer is the soft fruit season, say, six weeks in the middle of summer. Actually, the people are now being employed to erect the poly-tunnels in February and the fruit product can come all the way until October, so you now have something like a six or seven month span. And what we’re away to see, and some have already arrived ... You have seasonal agricultural workers who are coming in to the North East of Scotland to now be based here for the next six months. Now, under the government scheme, these are only allowed to be Romanian and Bulgarian workers, so there’s an actual quota allowed for the whole of Britain, which is 21,250, and I can tell you there’s a good 8,000 of them that are coming to Scotland to work in agriculture. And we need that because, as you go about Scotland, you see all the poly-tunnels and there’s always going to be somebody in there busy picking more than anything else. That’s what we’ve got. We then go on. We’ve got the potato harvest later in the year and then we need to then get people to work in the sheds to ensure that potatoes are graded and everything like that. We then get Christmas tree production prior to Christmas. And all that on top of that fact that what we’ve got as well, is we’ve got what could be termed a pack house, or production. It’s the first process of an abattoir or a chicken processing plant that other people work in the areas that we regulate, which is fifty-two weeks a year. Although I could say certain times ... coming into summer, barbecue season, they’ll need more product to put on the shelves in whatever supermarket. Likewise, again at Christmas or anything like that. So there is quite a real need for a temporary and moveable workforce in the North East of Scotland. At the same time, there is also a need for a continuing workforce and as such it’s the labour provider or the gangmaster that supplies a lot of those needs.

Simon:

You just mentioned about quotas from Romania and Bulgaria. Is that due to ...? Why are there quotas?

     

Ian:

Can’t ask me that, but I can say that that is a government restriction. We had the A8 workers coming in in 2004, right? When Romania and Bulgaria became accession states the government decided that workers would only come in from those two countries under recognised schemes. So you have the SAWS (Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme), you have the sector based scheme as well in which those quotas are defined by the government, not by the GLA (Gangmasters Licensing Authority).

Simon:

And would most of that have been Eastern Europeans?

     

Ian:

Well, as I said, in 2004 the borders opened that people could come in to work. There was none of the necessary restrictions that have been put in place regarding Romania and Bulgaria. And I would quite honestly say that the economy in the North East of Scotland needs these people to come and work in it. The only thing is that, unfortunately, in the current economic climate, what I am seeing is that people who have had full-time jobs who are having to go to agencies or gangmasters to seek other temporary work because perhaps they’ve been laid off. I’ve met people recently who’ve been in the UK for four or five years. They’ve been working lorry drivers, van drivers, and they’re now having to seek temporary work in agriculture because there’s no other work. There is a huge need for these people to be accommodated and to be working to keep the industry thriving more than anything else.

Simon:

What led to the introduction of licensing?

     

Ian:

I think it was always, you know, being talked about but obviously February 2004 in Morecambe Bay, twenty-three Chinese cockle pickers who were killed because an irresponsible person put them out on the sands at night. And I think most people know the background to that. So obviously there was a rush to get some sort of regulation in place and this was the Gangmasters Licensing Act that came in thereafter which actually brought about the setup of the authority I now work for. It’s quite unusual that really since then there has only been one cockle picking season but we’ve worked there and we’ve worked on the sands. There is cockle picking that goes on in Scotland down on the Solway. We’ve actually had people up in the Moray coast picking cockles or other shellfish and if they are being controlled by a person who is directing them where to go, where to work, then that person could be classified as a gangmaster. I don’t know ... We have to investigate these things. You may think: “Oh, cockles, that’s Morcambe Bay,” but it’s not really Morcambe Bay, it’s ... well, the Solway. And as I say, we have a whole coastline round Scotland where other forms of shellfish gathering can take place. So it’s really impacted on from there. But I have to be honest, Scotland, in particular North East Scotland, it’s probably more in the agricultural industry and in fishing that I’m involved.

Simon:

Could you give examples of some of the issues ...?

     

Ian:

I obviously can’t speak about individual cases. What I can say is that what we do find problematic, as I’ve already alluded to, is the transport that workers are being taken about in. We have serious concerns about that because, working and living in 2009, there’s an expectancy that people ... the job they’re doing and the means they get about to do, it will be risk assessed and will be safe and that’s what we have to ensure. I can remember at school myself, I used to go pick berries in a field in Angus and everybody climbed in the back of a farm tractor. Now, that wouldn’t be allowed these days. People ... The world has moved on and if you’re going to transport people about, you’ve got to ensure that it’s a suitable vehicle for transporting them. If it’s a minibus, if it’s got more than nine seats, technically it’s got to be authorised by VOSA (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency). So there are issues in connection with that.

 

As I say, some of the other issues revolve around accommodation. There are a lot of horrendous stories going around that people are being accommodated in containers with no facilities or anything or no access to facilities. And obviously what we’re looking for is that the people who’re providing accommodation for their workers, particularly in farms, that we’re looking for a safe standard there. And what we’re trying to do is work along with the local authorities, and the likes of the fire and rescue services to ensure that it’s a safe, habitable environment. Yeah, there are always going to be workplace campsites or whatever you want to call them, but as long as we’ve done our best, that the space in between the caravans or the containers ... some places do use containers to house people, but there’s beds in them and they’ve got an eating place and everything like that. It’s very safe. I’m not going to say that we’ve come a huge way but we have taken steps and we’re working alongside these partner agencies and we’re trying to make sure that it’s a better situation for people, particularly people who are coming over for the six months of the summer. There’s no doubt that that caravan or that container ... and what I’m speaking about is a container like a site hut that is used for accommodation with bunk beds and things. That is that person’s permanent home in the UK for six months and so they have to be given space to hang up their clothes. We’ve encountered things where people have been living out of suitcases for six months. They need to have a place that they can go and eat and prepare their meals. They need to have a place that, if they’ve been out working in inclement weather, where they can dry and wash their clothes and everything like that. And that’s all the standards that we’re trying to improve. So that’s a couple of the areas.

 

Obviously, wages. There were terrible stories before 2004 that people were working for £1.50 an hour and things like that. What I’ve already said is national minimum wage is £5.73 an hour. We’ve got to ensure that people are doing that. We’ve got to ensure that if people are engaged in piece work, where they can make more than that, however, if they’re not able to make that, the employer has got to make them up to at least that for their hourly work. So that’s the type of thing we get involved in, to ensure the conditions that they’re working in, the conditions that they’re transported in, the conditions they’re housed in and the money they get is correct. People also have a right to say: “I don’t want to work more than forty-eight hours a week.” There are quite a lot who actually want to work more than that, but there are regulations that say people should have a day off a week and things like that. And sometimes someone who comes across to this country wants to work every hour of every day that they’re here, but, unfortunately, rules and regulations are there for a better lifestyle for them, and so that accidents don’t happen because somebody’s tired because they’ve been working a hundred and twenty hours a week. And it’s very often steering a mean line between the two sides because, as we all know, particularly in agriculture, there is a rush to get a crop from a field into safety so that the crop is not damaged or destroyed and we will try our best to work alongside but at the same time we do have to say: “Enough’s enough,” sometimes. These people need time off. So that’s the type of things that we’ve been becoming involved in.

Simon:

Thinking more from, in terms of actual producers like farmers ... You’ve got a mixture of multinational corporations but you’ve still got a reasonable amount of small scale, kind of family-run businesses and things like that. Some of them ... A common complaint is that there’s too much bureaucracy. How do you find, in terms of their perspective of trying to make a living under the pressure from supermarkets?

     

Ian:

Oh, I understand fully. We work alongside supermarkets as well, but supermarkets themselves have mostly got an ethical policy that the stuff, or the goods, that’s going to be on their shelves, whether it’s coming from a foreign country or home-based, that nobody has been exploited in the production of that product or the appearance of that product on the supermarket shelves. And, really, that’s what we’re trying to ensure, that people at least receive a fair wage, that they are being housed in good enough conditions and, you know ... safety comes first, it’s the first thing we’re going to look at because the last thing we want is headlines saying: “Farm worker killed in a caravan fire because it had an insecure gas appliance,” and stuff like that. Those people, if they’ve got a hundred workers or if they’ve only got three workers on their farm or place of employment, have got a responsibility, as being either a gangmaster or the end labour user, to ensure that what they’re trying to achieve is being done safely and that the worker is safe in the environment they’re working in. Now, yeah, we hear tales of: “How can I make a profit?” and, well, unfortunately people are in business and business is a risk. And if you can’t accept that risk then you’ve got to accept the fact that government agencies ... We’re most certainly not trying to be bureaucratic, what we’re only trying to do is ensure a safe standard and that people are getting what they deserve, not being exploited. Exploitation can come in a lot of forms. It can be hugely, hugely severe or it can be the fact that people are saying: “I’m going to take a couple of pound off you every week for something.” That’s something ... People should really be expecting: “Well, if I’m having a deduction from my wage, it’s a legitimate deduction and not because somebody is wanting to line up their next holiday or whatever it may be.”

Simon:

Areas of actual improvement: Can you cite any example of ways you feel your agency has managed to ...?

     

Ian:

Yeah, I certainly can. My inspections that I go out ... because I’ve got to see where the worker is working. I can cite that I’ve been in brand new up-to-date factories that have been beautiful places to work in but then I looked about and I didn’t see a single fire extinguisher and it was something that everybody had forgotten, you know? And you’ve just got to say to them: “You’ve got to have fire extinguishers!” and things like that. It can be as basic as that. The other things I can cite as improvement are ... I would like to work alongside people. Rome wasn’t built in a day and change doesn’t happen overnight but if I go into a place and see that there is a danger ... if I go into a place and maybe you’ve got a hundred and fifty workers in a campsite and they’re all using a communal cooking facility and they’re all trying to use it at the same time, and you’ve maybe got a batch of cookers all in one corner of the room and you can say: “Well, that is just a potential hazard for danger, for people moving about pans of hot water or people moving about pans of hot fat,” you know? As simple as somebody making their tea, cooking chips or something like that, but when they’re all congregating around this ... What we actually did was suggested to the person: “Would it not be better if you made some work stations in the building so, instead of having all the things at one end, that you space them out and you maybe have a sink, a cooker and a worktop and a space and another sink, cooker, worktop?” We also suggested: “Do they all really need to eat at the same time? Can you not stagger your workforce coming back to the campsite? Could there be an hour in between, so one starts slightly later in the morning and comes back ... So that way you’re staggering your intake going into your cooking facility and there’s less danger?” And that way we’ve had successes. It may seem trivial to somebody listening to this, but it works because there’s not been an accident. There’s been nobody injured; there’s been nobody scalded, things like that. That’s the kind of small improvements. Yeah, other improvements. If I go out there and see a piece of transport that isn’t correct then I say: “No, I’m sorry. I don’t want that going on the road.” I’ve had actually people come out with mobile tyre fitting services to change a tyre on a vehicle because I’ve said: “I canna let you go away or take people home in that vehicle tonight because I would be failing you in my responsibility, because if you’re going to do that I’m going to phone the police and tell them that you’re on the road in an un-roadworthy vehicle.” That’s the kind of thing. Small improvements, big improvements sometimes. Yeah, there have been instances where people haven’t been paying the correct wage that we’ve certainly made an improvement. But it’s the other things, it’s across the broad spectrum that we’re trying to improve.

Simon:

So some of the examples, issues of work conditions and things like that, are things that you might just expect the unions to handle. Is there a relationship with unions ...?

     

Ian:

Yeah, there’s very much a relationship with the unions and, actually, certainly the unions have said that they want the GLA, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, to take on more, you know? But that’s not for me to decide. But what we have had is good support from the unions and some referrals from people who would be involved with the unions. We also get a lot of referrals from people coming along to help agencies in the North East, saying: “This is my plight, can I help?” Now, as I say, the only problem is sometimes I can’t help because these people are sometimes direct employees of someone and at that point I cannot become involved. It is only if they are coming in through what is a labour provider or a gangmaster that I can be involved. However, if I think that there is another partner agency that I can ask to come in to do something then we have the ability, and the act allows us, to exchange information with other government agencies, the police, and to ensure that we can find the right person to become involved with something.

Simon:

I guess also, many of these areas aren’t actually unionised work areas are they?

     

Ian:

Well, that is one of our standards as well, that people should be free to join a union. No one can say to somebody: “And don’t think you’re gonnae get to join a union, you’re not getting to join a union in this job.” That’s one of the standards that we ensure; that there’s no restrictions on people joining unions. Unfortunately, sometimes these are migrant workers and, as you said, they may not be keen to spend money on union fees and stuff like that, but it’s up to us to ensure that there’s no prohibition on joining a union if the worker wants to do so.

Simon:

Do you also do other things like language education or ... (inaudible) ...?

     

Ian:

We’re very conscious that a lot of workers in places ... (inaudible) ... The people I deal with, I only deal with migrant workers coming into Scotland but a lot of them are and things I need to ensure is that the labour provider they’re working for has done their best to try and make sure that the worker understands the conditions of their employment, and we’ll work along with them and suggest that a contract should not be in English if the worker canna understand English. Contracts should be in the workers own language so they can read, and if there is any direction or training need for the job, that perhaps they get somebody in that can speak the worker’s language to deliver that training so that we know it’s understood. A very simple test that I sometimes do when I arrive to check a premises is: “Do you know what happens if a fire alarm goes off?” Very simple, but it’s something that could happen to anybody and it’s up to somebody, somewhere to ensure that a worker knows, particularly if they’re working in premises, that: “If an alarm goes off, what do I do? Where’s the muster point?” We’re also trying to ensure that somebody’s got a record of who’s all on a site as well because, you know, we need to know how many people is there because if somebody is to stand there and say: “There’s somebody missing; there’s somebody still in that building,” if there is a fire ... That type of thing. So that is very much language. We encourage people to put up signs in the workplace in the workers’ own language because a lot of them ... You know, some of them their English is excellent but some of them don’t have the grasp of the language that perhaps they need to work in this area. We also encourage that they have a buddy system or have somebody that they know they can go to to query anything. We’ve had some really good employers trying to encourage language classes and everything. But we must ensure, particularly if it’s a migrant workforce that somebody is employing, that the workforce know that what they’re doing is correct; that they’re not exposed to danger. And at the same time, that they’re not being abused in terms of their pay and other things. So we do our best. We have a lot of people phoning us to report concerns. We actually have people on our desks down in Nottingham, where our headquarters are, who can speak languages. Unfortunately they can’t speak every language but we try our best to help them.

Simon:

And with the fishing as well, are there special issues with the fishing?

     

Ian:

Well, there are obviously issues relating to fishing because people are ... if they’re filleting fish, they’re using knives, and various other things, they’re working in a cold, wet climate, a cold, wet workplace, and things like that. And that could be likened to somebody in agriculture working in an abattoir or chicken processing factory but to a certain degree it’s line work. And we need to make sure that these people are not being unnecessarily abused, that they’re getting access to breaks. People need to have the required breaks in the course of their work and other things. If it’s cold and horrible, is there a nice warm room they can go to for that break? At the same time, in any processing, is there a first aid kit that’s available for them? If they have an issue do they know who to go and speak to? Particularly if they don’t have the command of English, is there somebody there on site that they can go and say: “I don’t think this machine is working correctly,” or whatever the case may be? These types of things. So a lot of these issues aren’t just to the fishing industry or anything like that. Some people who said we actually control people that are working out on fishing boats, no. We don’t cover that as a stance. But we’re looking at the processing side and we’re looking at the side if people were engaged temporarily, to remove the catch to the processing plant, we’d perhaps cover that. We’ve got to look at some things to see: “Does it come under legislation?” We call it: ‘Working in the sectors covered by the GLA’ and that’s what we try to do.

Simon:

Do you know if a lot of the people who are migrant workers are aware of your ...?

     

Ian:

Yep, we have a small, pocket-sized leaflet that we actually produce saying what their rights are. We produce that in every language we can think of. And most people like me, who are going out, we try when we’re speaking to workers ... Part of the process of testing whether someone gets a Gangmaster’s License, and then once they get it, it goes for a year at a time. Kind of like a car MOT. But we’ve got to ensure that for every day of that year they continue to comply with the standard we expect. So we can do ad hoc inspections. We do inspections on a risk-based approach. If we receive intelligence to say: “There are abuses happening here,” we can turn up to do it. That most certainly involves speaking to the workers because they’re the ones we’re interested in. We need to appear with an interpreter. It’s sometimes very difficult communicating. What we are able to do is give them these workers rights leaflets in their own language and a lot of the time we actually have them looking at it. If they find something isn’t right, they come back to us. It’s all about trying to make sure people are receiving what they deserve and that they’re not being abused. And although it may be said that, sometimes coming from countries to the UK, people maybe don’t expect as much. What we have to ensure that while they’re in the UK they’re being treated as equally as the indigenous worker because our economy needs them and we value them, like everybody else does.

Simon:

In the current economic situation, what do you see as the important areas developing in terms of ... (inaudible) ...

     

Ian:

I think I’ve perhaps touched on this a wee bit earlier but what I am seeing at the current moment in time, and this is May 2009 that we’re speaking, that we’ve had certain workers that have been here four or five years. People say: “Workers only want to come and work two years and then go back to their own country.” Well, that’s not necessarily the case. People want to settle here in the UK. That’s their choice. Freedom of movement allows that. What I am saying is that a lot of the workers, when they arrive, do go to somebody who does temporary work and then they may get taken on full-time. But unfortunately in the current economic climate: “Who’s job is safe?” Nobody knows if their job’s safe, more than anything else. And what I’m actually saying is that people who have been not so much doing the more manual tasks but more towards the skilled tasks, finding that their jobs are no longer safe and they’re trying to find work. The other thing I’m noticing is that indigenous workers are now having to look for the more manual tasks as well because there are people looking for work and they’re going to have to go where work is, and unfortunately seasonal work, in particular, can sometimes satisfy people temporarily if they’re between jobs or whatever the case may be. We’re going into a fruit picking season. We have farmers, who have previously relied on migrant workers because they couldn’t get home-based workers to pick their fruit. For all I know there may be a huge number of home-based workers which may be Scottish, English, other workers or else migrant workers who have previously settled here, are now coming to go and knock on the door of the farmer and saying: “Can I get work from you?” I think we’re going to see that this year, particularly in the current economic climate.

Simon:

So a lot more mobility between types of work?

     

Ian:

Well, people have settled. People have taken on houses. They need some money to pay for living. They’ve got children who’re in schools now, some of the people who’ve come in and settled in the UK. If they’ve lost their job then they’re going to be the same as you or I, and if they need work they’re going to find work. As I say, a perfect example, I saw a boy who was working as a lorry driver. Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, his employer had to pay him off and he was working as a packer for a short season in flowers. But he was going seeking the work and that’s what I think people will have to perhaps do, is go and seek the work wherever it is, whether it be short-term ... it could even be for days! Because sometimes a lot of people like that are used by gangmasters are filling in because of vacancies, short-term vacancies, or it may be because of sickness, but you still need somebody in. So it’s easier perhaps to go to a gangmaster or sometimes an employment agency. And that’s why a lot of these employment agencies have the license to operate in the sectors that we regulate, because they’re able to employ on the short-term.