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Oxfam Gangmasters report

Stewart Newlands

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How best to protect workers employed by gangmasters, five years after Morecambe Bay


On 5 February 2004, 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in rising tides in Morecambe Bay because of the negligence of their gangmaster. Five years on from the Morecambe Bay tragedy Oxfam has published a paper revealing that UK workers employed by ‘gangmasters’ still face unacceptable levels of exploitation and abuse.


Consequently, Oxfam has added its support to recent calls for the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) to be extended to the construction industry. The charity also wants the care and hospitality sectors to be covered, and advises that the functions of the EASI be transferred to the GLA to extend the Authority’s licensing regime to all areas of agency labour.


Full Report available here: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/policy/t...g-the-tide.html


Are freelance workers and Local Crew in a similar vulnerable position when it comes to working hours and having a real say in safety issues?


Any of these things sound close to what some freelancers and crew face?


Exploitation by licensed and unlicensed gangmasters in GLA-regulated sectors However, it is clear that although it has reduced there is still a considerable level of exploitation by gangmasters in the food and agricultural industries, both by licensed and unlicensed gangmasters. The research revealed instances of:


• Contracts: workers being deliberately misled about their contracts; workers being given verbal assurances of permanent, well-paid work, which did not materialise on their arrival in the UK.


• Wages: systematic and deliberate underpayment or non-payment of wages; failure to pay wages which met the national minimum wage; deliberate understatement of hours worked, leading to incorrect wages; failure to pay sick pay or holiday pay; non-payment for the final week of work; workers being transferred to ‘new’ agencies who are nonetheless under the same management as their previous employer, yet refuse to honour wages owed.


• Deductions: excessive deductions for transport to and from fields and workplaces, and for protective equipment.

“I worked cutting leeks for 70 hours, and was paid just £20 for a week’s work. The wage slip recorded just 14

hours. There was also a charge of £10.52 per week for transport to the field.” Anka, from Poland, living in Lincolnshire

“There were some irregularities with our monthly wages; the payments were never clear. Then one day they called me

to the office and just fired me. The advice agency said I had a case against the company, but it’s too costly to pursue it.”

Jozef, from Poland, works in construction in Hull

“I found one woman who started out with £149 as her net wage and by the time all the illegal deductions were taken out, was left with £19. Its disgraceful, but not unusual.” Independent researcher, Lincolnshire


• Excessive working hours: enforced excessive working hours; compulsory overtime, leading to regular 60-70 hour weeks under threat of dismissal, with no overtime premium being paid.


• Immigration processes: use of the immigration process to coerce workers, with documents being retained illegally by employers; workers not being registered with the Workers Registration Scheme, despite paying fees to their employers to register them; threats to report workers to immigration authorities.


• Dismissal: unfair and instant dismissals, which are so common as to be inherent in the employment model. Workers may lose their job and/or accommodation if they report abuse to authorities, protest about the conditions of work, are ill or request sick or holiday leave, or become pregnant.


• Accommodation: strong links between gangmasters and the accommodation providers. There were repeated reports of

considerable over-crowding and substandard accommodation, and ‘hot-bedding’ remains endemic. Despite a drop in gangmasters maintaining a direct link to accommodation – which was attributed to the work of the GLA – employers now seem to place migrants in the hands of unscrupulous landlords. We heard many reports of migrants living 10-12 to a two-bedroom flat, with little access to cooking and washing facilities, and no private space. It was also

clear that a number of local authorities were failing to enforce housing standards for people living in dangerous and unsuitable

conditions, because there is no alternative accommodation if they shut down the unscrupulous landlords. Issues hindering effectiveness


While this is the far end of the spectrum just how vulnerable is the average production crew person?

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Does it ring any bells in the production sector










{As a moderator I am well aware that one word posts are discouraged, but I've never known anyone's pay packet drop from £149 to £19 or be paid 20 hours for 70 hours work, or most of the other allegations above. The wage may often be lower than elsewhere in society, and the hours may well be long some weeks, but we all chose to do what we do and it's always above the minimum wage. I personally can't see a link.}

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I'm with JSB here: the report deals with the plight of mostly immigrant workers, doing unskilled jobs for very low pay. The level of abuses are way, way beyond anything faced in the crewing and freelance entertainment technician worlds: to attempt to compare slow payment for freelancers to the type of pay-related abuse these workers face is actually somewhat offensive - it trivializes what is a serious problem.
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<br />I'm with JSB here: the report deals with the plight of mostly immigrant workers, doing unskilled jobs for very low pay. The level of abuses are way, way beyond anything faced in the crewing and freelance entertainment technician worlds: to attempt to compare slow payment for freelancers to the type of pay-related abuse these workers face is actually somewhat offensive - it trivializes what is a serious problem.<br />


The second paragraph on page 21 is the only part of the report that I would describe as "ringing a bell".


I have found the the various Crewing companies we use to be reputable, and indeed I have done jobs for one or two over the years and have no complaints. They were fast payers, too, unlike many production companies.


There is a general problem in the UK with so much of the national workforce now artificially claimed as self employed - and therefore being unable to blow a whistle on H&S issues, late payments, etc. But it pales into insignificance compared with the circumstances described in that report.

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You will find that your reputable local crew company is classed as an employment business and therefore subject to the Employment Agencies Act 1973


Other regulations governing the industry include the Employment Businesses Regulations 2003. This puts an emphasis on the differences between an employment agency, which introduces workers to a ‘user’ or client who then enters into a contract with the worker, and an employment business, which enters into a direct contract with the worker and then contracts them out to employers.


While the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Act potentially could be extended to cover our industry, its original purpose was to protect vunerable workers in the sectors covered. I hope it is not required to be applied to our sector as the high standards of crew and crewing services that are available to our industry means that there is unlikely to be the widespread exploitation of employees in this field that requires further meddling from men in suits.


It is the employer/contractors responsibility to decide how the employee/sub-contractor should be paid. The HMRC make it quite clear under what circumstances an individual can be paid as an employee or a sub-contractor. There have been a few examples cited previously on this forum of businesses going under due to back taxes being demanded because they paid all their casual staff via invoices as sub-contractors when it was obvious (in hindsight) that this was wrong. Being 'freelance' does not automatically make you 'self-employed'.


Reputable crewing businesses will always make sure that workers are trained, competent, safe and paid accordingly for the work done. 'If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!' If not there are the appropriate bodies to which individuals can seek advice or complain - Tax - HMRC, Safety - HSE, various issues - your friendly trade organisation eg: BECTU, PSA etc.


Provided we as an industry maintain the high standards expected of us there should be no further need for additional regulation.

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