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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 14:33 GMT
Watchdog on gangmasters launched
Cockle picking
The watchdog will regulate labour for work such as cockle picking
Details of a new watchdog aimed at curbing the exploitation of agricultural workers and labourers have been unveiled by the government.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) will for the first time regulate those who supply workers to agricultural and shellfish businesses.

It will set licensing conditions and keep a register of labour providers.

Farming Minister Lord Whitty said the GLA, which will begin work in April, would help prevent "abuse" of workers.

The GLA was set up under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act, which came into force in July 2004.

Anyone who acts as a gangmaster without a licence will be breaking the law.

It will also be illegal to use an unlicensed gangmaster. Offenders face up to 10 years in jail.

Labour providers are a key part of our industry but there is no place in modern agriculture for illegal employment practices
Tim Bennett, President of the National Farmers' Union

A Defra spokeswoman said: "Licensing alone will not solve the problem of illegal activities by gangmasters, but it will make the problem solvable.

"It will provide transparency in the food supply chain for the first time.

"People will be able to establish who are legitimate labour providers, thereby helping to stamp out abuse."

A former police chief and a retired Army major general were named on Thursday as chair and chief executive designate of the GLA, which will be based in Nottingham.

New appointments

Paul Whitehouse, chairman designate, was formerly the chief constable of Sussex and is currently vice-chairman of Nacro, the crime reduction charity.

Michael Wilson, chief executive designate, was a major general on the Defence Intelligence Staff and is currently chief executive of the Defence Vetting Agency.

Lord Whitty said: "Their track records and experience make me confident the authority will operate effectively, with zero tolerance for those who abuse workers or flout the law."

Mr Whitehouse is due to meet representatives from the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) this week.

Mark Boleat, chairman of the ALP, said: "The licensing authority has secured an excellent leadership team and we look forward to working with them on the implementation of the licensing regime."

Tim Bennett, president of the National Farmers' Union, also welcomed the appointments, saying: "Labour providers are a key part of our industry but there is no place in modern agriculture for illegal employment practices."

The formal appointment of the two men will be confirmed when Parliament adopts the regulations underpinning the GLA's operation, expected in March.

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