Licensing of Gangmasters

What is a gangmaster?

A gangmaster is someone who supplies a worker to another person for casual work purposes; or uses a worker to carry out casual manual labour. Typical of these types of casual work include agricultural or horticultural work, and gathering shellfish. A gangmaster must usually have a licence to operate. This provides important protection for casual labourers who are often vulnerable and prone to exploitation.

The licensing of gangmasters is governed by various pieces of legislation, particularly the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and related regulations. The 2004 Act applies where the casual work is carried out in the United Kingdom, on any portion of the shore or seabed, or of an estuary or tidal river, adjacent to the UK or in UK coastal waters. The location of the gangmaster is irrelevant for the purpose of the Act.

What is the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA)?

The GLA is responsible primarily for the licensing of gangmasters and for ensuring that licensed gangmasters comply with their legal obligations. It also has a statutory duty to report potential victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour following the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Licensing of gangmasters

Gangmasters must meet required standards to be licenced, and are assessed for health and safety, accommodation, pay, transport and training. The GLA checks that they are fit to hold a licence and that tax, National Insurance and VAT regulations are met. It is a criminal offence to supply casual workers without a licence or to use an unlicensed labour provider.

There are various specific exceptions to the requirement to hold a licence, including:

  • where a worker processes or packs produce supplied to a catering establishment, a shop or other retail establishment, a wholesale market, a wholesale establishment or a distribution warehouse
  • where a worker processes or packs a product which includes a derivative of produce but the product is not a food or pet product, or a product which is primarily an agricultural, fish or shellfish product
  • exceptions in the context of farming, such as where an agricultural worker is supplied by one farmer to another farmer to work on a farm which is the subject of a share farming agreement between them; or they are supplied by one farmer for another and the licensed gangmaster who supplied them for the first farmer agrees to it – and it’s a one-off arrangement of no more than two weeks
  • where an agricultural worker is supplied by a sole operator in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme to another operator in the scheme
  • further exceptions involving the provision of agricultural workers, for instance, to harvest crops by a person who has transferred title to land but has retained title to the crops growing on that land
  • where an agricultural worker licensed under the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 is supplied to slaughter animals
  • where an agricultural worker is supplied by an educational establishment to undertake agricultural work solely in furtherance of education or training provided to the worker by that establishment leading to a recognised agricultural qualification
  • where an agricultural worker is used for agricultural work by a person to provide a service to a farmer where the worker is a family member
  • shellfish gatherers diving using breathing apparatus to gather shellfish from the sea bed or to operate a net, dredge or other machinery used to gather shellfish from the sea bed, other than a hand net or hand-held rake, where the worker is using the net, dredge or other machinery on board a fishing vessel which is operating at sea

The above is not an exhaustive list of exceptions. For further information on how the rules directly affect your circumstances you should take specialist legal advice.

What criminal offences are there?

Someone who acts as a gangmaster without a licence and does not come within an exception commits a criminal offence. It is also an offence to possess or control a GLA licence which is false or improperly obtained, or which belongs to someone else with the intention of inducing another to believe they are a licensed gangmaster.

It is also a criminal offence to enter into an arrangement for the supply of workers or services with an unlicensed gangmaster. On conviction of an offence, a fine and or a term of imprisonment (up to 10 years in the case of shellfish gathering) can be imposed.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A former solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.