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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 10:38 GMT
MPs' lobby: Licensing gangmasters
Photo of Jim Sheridan MP
Jim Sheridan wants more protection for gangs of temporary workers - do you?
The recent deaths of the cocklers in Morecombe have highlighted the plight of temporary - often migrant - gangs of workers in the UK.

The Labour MP for West Renfrewshire Jim Sheridan is raising the matter in the House of Commons with his Private Members' Bill to regulate the UK's 3,000 gangmasters.

An investigation by the Defra select committee in summer 2003 revealed widespread exploitation of the country's estimated 60,000 gangworkers, employed mainly in agricultural industries.
What the Gangmasters Licensing Bill will do
Ensure gangmasters obtain licenses
Make sure gangmasters are monitored and operate transparently
Enforce compliance with UK law, including minimum employment standards

What do you think is the best way of protecting the rights of these temporary workers? How can the government prevent the exploitation of the labour force? Do you think the economy works better if it is less restricted by regulations?

Jim Sheridan has answered your questions. You can see his responses by clicking on the link below. BBC Parliament will also broadcast the interview on Thursday 26 February at 2245 GMT and on Saturday 28 February at 1450 GMT.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

If benefits were not so freely forthcoming we would not have this problem where gangmasters recruit often illegal workers. Farms and factories need workers and many people here find that it is not financially viable giving up benefits to work. Cut benefits for those that could work.
Sally, Chester

I agree with everyone else who says that the best solution is to deal with the issue of migration in the first place. We are a small country and do not seem to be close to organising the infrastructure to cope with a bigger influx of migrants. In any event, I believe welcoming people over here just to better themselves is a mistake. In the short term they will be drawn to the benefit system and the black market.
L Story, Middlesex

If we tighten the regulation on illegal immigrants, then the gangmasters would be flushed out. All those whose asylum applications have failed need to be deported immediately and future applications should be dealt with abroad at the British Embassy. This would cut the flow entering the UK, and would subsequently benefit the immigrant from being taken in by a gangmaster. Just in response to Mr Wang's point on British imperialism: I don't think an American can point fingers at us for conquering other countries with their current foreign policy.
Mrs T J Morrison, Sheffield

Illegal immigration and exploitation will only get much worse if this idiotic idea goes through
Kevin, Branford USA
Illegal immigration and exploitation will only get much worse if this idiotic idea goes through. Is this being pushed by the economic interests who have the most to gain by allowing cheap immigrant labour into the UK? The only thing to do is to strictly enforce the rule of law as it now stands, economy be damned. In the US we have always had cheap labour and industrialists have exploited it. Look at the new scheme proposed in the US, with some "amnesty" for foreign workers. Didn't we in the US already have an amnesty in the 80s? Did that stop the influx of immigrants at all? The only thing to do is be as tough as possible, to deter people from coming to your country.
Kevin, Branford USA

How is this solution going to stop the tragedy that happened in Morecombe happening again? These people were illegal immigrants, they are unlikely to ask for a license to start working! Politicians should stop trying to get the popular vote and start thing of long term solutions rather than a quick fix which looks good but will be a waste of time.
Stephen, England

The emphasis must change from persecuting illegal workers to penalise anyone who employs them. People seeking to better themselves know that whilst the UK is overwhelmed by laws with the exception of speeding there is little enforcement. They can make their way to the UK where there is vast scope for employment below the minimum wage. Employers blame gangmasters for low wages and bad conditions but they must be responsible for workers on their property. Carry out inspections and introduce a fine of 1000 per day for each illegal found. I think there would be a rapid reduction in the number of illegal workers if the work was not there.
E Smith, Nottingham

With new countries joining the European Union soon we are told that skilled workers - like doctors and nurses - will be eager to come here to earn good money. A meagre wage in their own country could be trebled over here, so what happens about the depletion of workers in their own health service? How does this help those poorer countries?
Mr Boothroyd, Bideford N Devon

This is a system akin to slavery
Elizabeth Hughes, Feltham
I felt very sad reading the anti-immigrant ranters on this discussion page. My mother was an immigrant to this country in the 1950s and worked in unregulated, unpleasant conditions as a starting point for a better life for herself. Whatever their status, gangworkers are exploited workers. This is a system akin to slavery, involving unregulated, non-unionised, unpleasant and sometimes dangerous work, and this is tolerated by agricultural businesses, supermarket buyers, the law, politicians and eventually by consumers who want to pay the cheapest price for their food. The government should look at regulating gangmasters through licensing and by providing a worker's insurance card as used in the construction industry. A farmer could ask to see a registration card before workers come onto his property - it could be an insurance requirement much as it is on the site where I work.
Elizabeth Hughes, Feltham

It seems ridiculous to me that we are spending millions of pounds maintaining the armed forces to keep foreign forces from invading our country and yet we are so careless when it comes to allowing floods of immigrants and asylum seekers into our country. As we know some of them harbour resentment against us and even threaten us. Britain please wake up and change this slap dash attitude to the security of our country.
R Steward, UK

Why not have wages kept at a reasonable standard so that the native population and naturalised Brits are encouraged to work instead of keeping wages poor and then flooding the country with cheap labour to do these ultra-menial jobs?
Saj Ali, London

Jim Sheridan wants to regulate gangmasters to protect the migrant workers. Pity Jim wasn't around in the 40's. He could have legislated to ensure Al Capone treated his cronies with proper respect. These people have no rights, they are here illegally. If they want protection, they should come in through proper channels, not sneak in through the back door.
Dave, London, UK

MP's cheat and lie to get our vote and go to war. Gangmasters abuse the law. Who is guilty who is innocent?
Anon, UK

The best way to prevent exploitation is to return the workers to their country of origin when discovered.If the gangmasters are apprehended then their bank accounts should be frozen & the proceeds used for the costs of repatriation of the workers plus any costs incurred in the operation.
Chris , Kenilworth

Too much is being made of trying to regulate gangmasters - it's only one small part of the problem of illegal immigrants. It's time the government tried to bring all the illegal workers into the system and that means giving them some sort of amnesty and the right to work legally and contribute by paying tax and NI like the rest of us! Gordon Brown could do with the revenue. The right to work should only be for a fixed period of time. Such a scheme would be similar to that proposed in the US in January this year. It would not mean they have rights to benefits of any kind and by issuing ID cards and NI numbers at the same time there would be a chance to track them and ensure they leave the country when they are supposed to.
Kevin, Aberdeen

I am amazed that allowing more than a minimum of immigrants into the UK is even considered. We have unemployed people who should be encouraged to fill the vacancies - or get no benefits. To claim we need immigrants to fill vacancies ignores the fact that we are overcrowded here and need to reduce our population. We can hardly move around as it is and hardly any services can cope properly.
John Bournemputh, Bournemouth

It seems as if British people are only concerned with themselves
Li-Chung Wang, US
This will sound rather bold, but it seems as if British people are only concerned with themselves. The current world system and dire conditions of the countries many of these immigrants come from are probably the result of British imperialism and European domination of the world system. Moreover, England is one of the richest countries in its world, but apparently it has nothing to offer anyone else and must enrich itself and forget about others.
Li-Chung Wang, Evanston, US

What's the point of new laws when this incompetent government and incompetent civil service can't even enforce the existing laws? Immigration enforcement is a complete shambles. Heads should roll - and lots of them too!
Chris, London

Illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers bring the whole immigration system into disrepute, which is grossly unfair on those who go through due process and come to the UK to work legally. It is a lack of political will at the top which has created this situation. The government must be shamed into responding adequately, even if it means putting many people here illegally on planes and boats back to their countries of origin.
Richard Marriott, Kidderminster

I would like provision in the bill to make the gangmasters directly responsible for the safety of their workers, such as by strengthening the local coastguard presence in the cockle picking areas - especially where there is a lethal tidal situation. There was a lack of care in the Cockle pickers tragedy which of course does reflect on the inaction by the government. It was an accident waiting to happen and then it did. There will be more deaths before this resolves itself.
W Webb, Newcastle under Lyme

I work in a sector where legal immigration is encouraged, but I have not seen any stage in the international recruitment process, or any immigration regulation, that has not been abused and exploited. How are you going to differentiate between gangmasters and recruitment agencies, which are also unregulated? Legal changes need to include: prison sentences and seizure of profit for those employing illegally and for unregistered recruitment. Likewise, high accommodation charges (in excess of the local norm) should be subject to re-payment on application by the employee. All embassies should supply all those seeking UK work visas with a sheet of advice in their language which states basic UK employment law and advises where free advice can be obtained.
Amy, Leeds

What a waste of parliamentary time, seeking to legitimize criminality
Alan, Southampton
What a waste of parliamentary time, seeking to legitimize criminality. The best way to help temporary labourers - or illegal immigrants - is to ship them back to their own country, till they can prove they can support themselves, in this country. Precious resources are being spent on legislation and policing the legislation, which we can ill afford.
Alan, Southampton

Temporary workers can be protected like any other worker by existing laws. The events in Morecambe Bay are being hyped up and MPs are focussing on the wrong issue. The key issue is illegal immigration whether we like it or not. The unscrupulous gangmasters get away with it precisely because they use labour that is here illegally - after all if they complain they are liable to be deported. When will this government learn that it is not simply a case of passing laws - they actually have to enforce them!
John, UK

Who is going to enforce compliance with UK law, including minimum employment standards? Which government department will be checking up on the gangmasters and will they have the necessary people and powers to protect these temporary workers? Are these gangmasters and gangworkers paying tax? Are they spending the money in this country or sending it out of the country? So what contribution to the economy do they make?
Anon, UK

Stop legislating and start enforcing! I am tired like so many other people of Labour introducing legislation after legislation without providing the resources or giving the impetus to enforce any of it. If the Police and other agencies did their jobs properly, Morecombe Bay would not have happened.
Ed Hollinshead, Cheshire

It's no good having regulations unless the regulations are properly policed
Barb Garner, E Sussex
A non-governmental department needs setting up to properly licence these folk. Government turns a blind eye when it suits it to do so. It's no good having regulations, of any kind, unless the regulations are properly 'policed'.
Barb Garner, E Sussex

A few months ago the Farming Today programme on Radio 4 interviewed a farmer who tried to find out whether gangmasters who supplied him with labour were properly registered and were passing on wage deductions etc to the Inland Revenue. He was refused the information he sought because of the Data Protection Act! Apart from getting a few good headlines and brownie points what's the point of churning out ever more regulations when the left hand of government doesn't seem to know what the right hand is doing, and when existing laws and initiatives aren't even being enforced?
David, UK

The best way to protect these workers is to deport them. The government can reduce the exploitation of the workforce by limiting the numbers of workers, e.g. by deporting all illegal immigrants and stopping all so-called "asylum seekers" entering the country. With a finite number of workers, the employers would have to compete with each other in providing good employment conditions and wages. The economy does work better with less regulations; you only have to compare the USA with the UK, or the UK with the EU to see this truth.
Stephen Blyth, Northampton

We should start a programme of deportation and repatriation of all illegal workers and failed asylum seekers - then reasonable British folk like me can stop feeling like our only recourse is to vote for a party of nationalist persuasion at the coming elections. It is a shame that Jim Sheridan doesn't spend more time thinking up ways to protect the British electorate and taxpayers, rather than thinking of ways to spend our taxes on people who have no right to be here. If we cannot get British nationals to do these jobs, then maybe it is time to end state benefits for all able bodied UK citizens. Now that would be brave legislation. Attacking "gangmasters" is the soft target option. Still, this has got Jim into the news, a must for all politicians these days.
Roger Morgan Freedlan, Whitwick

The simple fact of the matter is, both illegal (economic) migrants and failed asylum seekers should not be in the country in the first place. If the government did its job correctly, both groups would be deported. There would then be no need for the government to legislate to protect their rights. Also, the gangmasters would then have nobody to exploit.
Tony, Rochdale

Let's be brave, just say to the world: if you want to work in the UK go to the local British Consulate or Embassy, they will actively assist you for free! Encourage legal temporary work permits - why not even provide the transport! These people will no longer have the stigma and risk of illegality, they will retain their present national and family links. Their experience of the UK will be uplifted and they get to go home when they like! The added benefit is that an entire illegal industry is destroyed overnight!
Anon, UK

Would it not be better to make certain that our present laws are enforced?
David, Leeds
A couple of years ago the government set up Operation Gangmaster to crack down on criminal gangmasters. A recent parliamentary report stated that Operation Gangmaster had no minister responsible, no resources and, in effect, no results. Whilst enforcing existing legislation generates few feel good headlines, would it not be better to make certain that our present laws are enforced, rather than passing yet more laws which on past experience probably won't produce any results either?
David, Leeds

The real problem is population density. Why are so many being allowed here when our density is already five times greater than the US? It looks like the Dutch have woken up to this situation. There are not too many cars on the road, there are too many people. There are not too few houses being built, there are too many people. I could go on. Lucky for us that in 1939 the Germans did not ask for political asylum, we would have lost the war!
Kosh, Reading

James Sheridan
16 Oct 02  |  Politics
03 Dec 03  |  Politics
Public bills in Parliament 2003/2004 session
07 Jan 04  |  BBC Parliament


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