Gangmasters Licensing Authority

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The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) is a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom regulating the supply of workers to the agricultural, horticultural and shellfish industries. Employment agencies (labour providers) working in those fields have had to be licensed by the authority since 1 October 2006.


The GLA was established on 1 April 2005 by the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, passed in the aftermath of the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster.[1] The primary purpose of the authority is to prevent the exploitation of workers in the fresh produce sector.

Until the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, introduced by Conservative minister John Redwood, all employment agencies would have needed to operate under such a scheme. This followed from the Employment Agencies Act 1973, which required all employment agencies to be licensed. The 1994 Act removed the licensing regime, though there have been renewed calls for its reintroduction, especially given the drive for the Agency Workers Regulations 2010.

Moves to create the Licensing Authority were spearheaded by the Temporary Labour Working Group, a coalition of the National Farmers Union, the Transport & General Workers' Union, the Food and Drink Federation, the British Retail Consortium and the Ethical Trading Initiative. Jim Sheridan introduced a Private Members Bill into Parliament early in 2004 and the Government adopted this bill following the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, England on 5 February 2004.

Initially, the authority sat under the control of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) but on 9 April 2014 it was switched to the control of the Home Office. In making the announcement, Prime Minister David Cameron stated that the move would ‘strengthen its enforcement and intelligence capabilities’ by putting it directly alongside the considerable resources of the National Crime Agency. [1]


The GLA was set up to prevent the exploitation of workers, particularly by debt bondage and forced labour and to improve health and safety standards, in what had become an unregulated area of employment.[2]

Businesses which provide labour in the following sectors need to be licensed:

  • agriculture, including horticulture, dairy farming, the production of consumable produce (whether for profit or not), the raising of animals that will enter the food chain, and the use of land as grazing, meadow or pasture land
  • processing and packaging of products (food and drink) containing an agricultural component, any animal product that will enter the food chain, shellfish/fish products, plants/flowers/bulbs, and pet/animal feed
  • gathering shellfish.


Companies who use labour providers in these sectors are termed ‘labour users’, and have faced prosecution if they use workers or services provided by an unlicensed labour provider, since 1 December 2006.

Four specific offences have been established by the Act:

  • Operating as a gangmaster without a licence - s12 (1) offence (maximum penalty 10 years)
  • Using an unlicensed gangmaster (subject to a reasonable steps/due diligence defence) - s13 offence (maximum penalty six months)
  • Obtaining or possessing a false licence or false documentation likely to cause another person to believe that a person acting as a gangmaster is licensed - s12 (2) offence
  • Obstruction of enforcement officers/compliance officers exercising their functions under the Act - s18 offence

In December 2013, Judge Nicholas Coleman handed out the first custodial sentence for an offence under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act at Norwich Crown Court. Audrius Morkunas, of Melton Constable, was given seven years imprisonment after admitting he had acted as a gangmaster without a licence. Morkunas received seven years for the offence with other custodial sentences imposed to run concurrently. [2] The presiding judge took aggravating factors into account when passing sentence, inclduding the fact that Morkunas was also found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which had occurred when he beat one of his employees with an iron bar.

Powers of officers

The Home Secretary can appoint "enforcement officers" to enforce the 2004 Act.

In England and Wales, and Northern Ireland, enforcement officers have certain powers of arrest (see below) in relation to the following offences:[3]

  • acting as a gangmaster without a licence
  • possessing a relevant document that is false, improperly obtained or that belongs to someone else, with the intention of causing another person to believe they (or someone else) are a licensed gangmaster.
  • conspiring to commit the offences outlined above
  • attempting to commit the offences outlined above
  • aiding and abetting the offences outlined above

An enforcement officer may arrest:[3]

  • anyone who is about to commit such an offence or whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit such an offence
  • anyone in the act of committing the offence or whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting is committing an offence
  • anyone who is guilty or whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of having committed the offence

This power is in addition to the "any person" power of arrest under section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (or Article 26A of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 in Northern Ireland).[3][4]


The GLA is governed by a board and a chair appointed by the Secretary of State. Initially the board was made up of up to 19 representatives from stakeholder groups plus nine ex-officio members from other Government Departments and the devolved parliaments plus the chair.

Under the Government's Red Tape Challenge review of the GLA (designed to cut down on bureaucracy) a recommendation was made to reduce the size of the board, which was considered to be 'unwieldy'. This call for a more streamlined governance structure was echoed in the authority's Triennial Review [3] of April 2014. Such reviews have been undertaken on all NDPBs since 2011. The result was that the number of board members was cut to no more than eight members plus a chair. Recruitment took place towards the end of 2014 and six new board members were appointed in March 2015 just prior to the dissolution of Parliament. Under the new arrangements, board members are independent but are selected based on knowledge and experience pertinent to the operations of the GLA.


Supporters of the authority argue it should be given more powers and resources. Some have called for an extension of the GLA's remit, citing it as an effective model of enforcement and raising standards for workers.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) report on vulnerable workers [4] was critical that the Authority's narrow scope failed to extend its regime for gangmasters to sectors such as construction, hospitality, and care home workers. It was estimated that at least 2 million workers were left out while UCATT, the building workers union, estimating that East European workers were paid as low as £8.80 for a 39-hour week.

This continues to be repeating theme from a range of independent research reports, particularly from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) [5], which has produced a suite of reports focusing on forced labour in the aftermath of the introduction of the forced labour offence, introduced in section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (later coming into force in Scotland also [6].

In 2007, the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK, the JRF's first report in the series "Modern slavery in the United Kingdom" [7] was produced, arguing that " there may already appear to be a prima facie case for strengthening the powers of surveillance and regulation of the GLA", and suggesting that evaluation was necessary to determine whether the regulatory framework needed to be enhanced.

Other regulators cite problems with the activities of Gangmasters, as demonstrated in the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s (EHCR) Meat Industry inquiry report, issued in March 2010, [8], which identified widespread abuse and exploitation and recommended that the GLA’s powers be extend to investigate the new criminal offence of forced labour.

Oxfam's "Turning the Tide" report [9], issued in July 2009, whilst being critical of the GLA's relationship with UK Borders Agency (see criticisms), was generally supportive of the GLA's work. It stated: " Gangmasters, unions, and migrant support organisations alike are all supportive of the GLA’s work", (page 27). It also observed that "the GLA and its licensing regime were considered effective by many labour providers, unions, retailers and representatives of vulnerable workers, for its significant work in improving labour rights, standards for workers and creating a more level playing field for employers", (page 2).But in noting that there was more work to be done to assist exploited workers it concluded that the GLA "has struggled to eradicate exploitation at the very bottom of the market - undoubtedly in part due to its inability to protect all workers, irrespective of their immigration status”(page 16).

In November 2010 the JRF report: "Between decent work and forced labour: examining the continuum of exploitation" [10] recommended that: " Those who inspect workplaces should be empowered: Labour inspection should be extended and the mandate should include investigation and prosecution of forced labour. This should also include the extension of the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and its mandate to prosecute forced labour."

In 2011, two JRF reports: "Forced labour in Northern Ireland: exploiting vulnerability" (June 2011) [11], and "Experiences of forced labour among Chinese migrant workers" (November 2011)[12] also recommended the extension of areas under the GLA's control to improve protection against forced labour.

The EHRC's most recent report in relation to forced labour - on trafficking in Scotland - also issued in November 2011 [13] recommended that a strategy for Scotland should learn from the regulatory approach of the GLA.

In January 2012 the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), report on the UK's response to combating trafficking [14] recommended that: the GLA licensing regime should be extended to cover other economic sectors vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking such as construction,domestic work/care, and hospitality; and that the GLA should be granted the power to prosecute the new offence of forced labour.

In February 2012 the JRF report "Regulation and enforcement to tackle forced labour in the UK: A systematic response?" [15] recommended extending the GLA remit, stating that:"Such a move could have very positive impacts on how forced labour is dealt with because the GLA has created a robust system of licensing and the standards incorporate the ILO indicators on forced labour."

On 4 May 2012 the anti-trafficking monitoring group produced the second of two reports [16], which, referring to the findings of the reports by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (ECHR)and the OSCE suggested that the GLA should have the power to investigate forced labour offences. Like the monitoring group's first report [17], it also recommended that the GLA model be expanded to tackle exploitation in other sectors, citing construction, cleaning, and hospitality.

On 15 May 2012 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launched its latest report: "Experiences of forced labour in the UK Food Industry" [18]. Receiving national press coverage [19] [20], the report recommended continuing Government support for the GLA, and that its powers should be strengthened to assist its work in tackling forced labour and exploitation.

In 2014, the subject of widening the GLA remit was again raised during the drafting phases of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 with proposals added by opposition Labour MP David Hanson who proposed an amendment [21] that would ‘enable the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to tackle modern day slavery'. The amendment would have given the Home Secretary the power to add other industries to the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act effectively providing scope to extend the GLA sector but it was voted down by the sitting coalition Government.

Further amendments were proposed as the Bill reached the Lords and these eventually evolved into Section 55 [22] of the new Modern Slavery Act – a requirement that the Secretary of State review and produce a paper on the ‘role of the GLA’ within 12 months of enactment of the new legislation.

Regulatory reviews and the future of the GLA

Despite reports advocating the extension of the GLA's remit the de-regularatory climate makes such a change unlikely, with the GLA being examined through several Government reviews.

In March 2005, before it was established, a report " Reducing administrative burdens:effective inspection and enforcement" recommended that the GLA's independent status ought to be reviewed [23]. The report led to a programme of reviews of all regulators and the manner in which they operated. The GLA's approach was endorsed by the inspection review, demonstrating that their regulatory approach was in line with the new principles on regulation [24].

In June 2010, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice, announced a Defra wide review of regulation affecting farmers [25]. In October 2010 the UK Government announced a "bonfire of the quangos" [26]. Although the GLA was not among those regulators listed for abolition its approach was to be within the remit of the Government's "Red Tape Challenge", which was designed to identify regulations that should be changed or abolished [27] In January 2011 Defra announced a review of regulations affecting the forestry industry [28]

The Farming task force review, reporting in May 2011, made around 215 recommendations, of which 8 related to the GLA, which praised the GLA’s proactive lighter touch pilot on forestry (recommendation 4.64) [29]. The Forestry review reported in October 2011 [30]. It made 41 recommendations, 2 of which focused on the GLA, suggesting that forestry should be removed from the remit of the GLA.

In the Government response to the farming review recommendations, in February 2012, it stated that: "The Government will continue to look at what more the GLA needs to do to tackle the non-compliant, while reducing unnecessary burdens on the compliant, and any legal changes needed to support this. Any future approach will be reviewed as part of the Red Tape Challenge process. " The Government responded to the Forestry task force in March 2012 [31], complimenting the GLA's forestry pilot as introducing a lighter touch approach to regulation, and reiterating its response to the Farming task force report. Whilst broadly supported by the Forestry industry they were still critical of the delay by leaving the recommendations to be dealt with by the red tape challenge (see critics below).

On 23 May 2012, a government-commissioned report by Adrian Beecroft, on revising employment regulation, included a recommendation for the GLA's abolition. The report, which did not refer to the GLA's focus on preventing labour exploitation, argued that there was very little concrete evidence of the GLA's impact, that it was not cost effective and that it imposed "a considerable financial and administrative burden ", the report concluded it was "hard to believe that the Health and Safety Executive and the normal processes of the law would not achieve a similar result at far less cost” than the GLA. [18]. The report has received support and criticism itself, which has been widely reported. [32] [33] [34] [35]

On 24 May 2012, following the Red Tape Challenge review of the GLA's regulations, a Ministerial statement was issued which proposed changes to the way the GLA operated, but re-affirmed its commitment to the role of the GLA [36] Supported by stakeholders in the industry, such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) [37], others, such as the TUC, expressed concerns: 'We welcome the government's rejection of Mr Beecroft's call to abolish the GLA, but today's announcement will still reduce protection for many vulnerable workers." [38]. Concerns that the GLA required more powers, or could be watered down, were echoed by Conservatives [39], and labour [40] MPs alike, indicative of the continuing political support for the GLA demonstrated in the Westminister Hall debate in February 2012 [41].


Critics of the authority have variously accused it of being ineffective, overly media-focussed, having board members with conflicts of interest or heavy-handed .

Research by Oxfam, issued in July 2009, whilst generally supportive (see Advocates section) was also critical of the GLA's approach [42]. It found that the GLA's practice of providing information to the UK Border Agency is preventing the most vulnerable migrant workers from coming forward. "Given the GLA’s reliance on workers speaking out, and given that many workers within its remit are migrant workers, the GLA’s role in enforcing immigration law and sharing information with the UK Border Agency fundamentally thwarts its ability to fully achieve its goal of ending worker exploitation",(page 19). They argue that this prevents the most vulnerable from reporting exploitation: "Effectively, through the inclusion of this [immigration] standard, the GLA creates a distinction between the labour rights of regular migrants and irregular migrants. The consequence is two-fold: both regular migrants unsure of their immigration status and irregular migrants will be discouraged from reporting abuses; and secondly, irregular migrants will be more likely to be driven further underground and work for unlicensed and more exploitative gangmasters", (page 29).

In May 2010 reports began to emerge that over 70 dairy farmers were caught up in the GLA’s biggest ever criminal investigation [43] and 19 were prosecuted [44]. In a test case against one of the 19, who pleaded guilty, a judge concluded that the wrongdoing was "purely technical" and categorically involved no worker exploitation. [45] [46].

After public interest in the GLA peaked in October 2010 with claims that the GLA had found trafficked child slaves forced to work in English agriculture [47] it was reported that these reports had been fabricated to save the GLA from budget cuts. [48]

In February 2012, the Daily Mirror highlighted examples of a GLA board member providing consultancy advice to gangmasters subject to investigation, law-enforcement or prosecution by the GLA suggesting that potential conflicts of interest at the authority were “hidden from public gaze”. [49][50]

In March 2012 Confor (the Forestry industry body) broadly welcomed the government's response to the Forestry Task Force, but in a meeting with forestry minister Lord Taylor, chief executive Stuart Goodall expressed frustration that the issue of Gangmaster licensing had been left to the government's Red Tape Challenge, and said it will continue to lobby hard for complete exemption from licensing [51]. As a result it issued a press statement in April 2012 [52], leading to coverage in several regional media outlets. These alleged that the GLA had an “in your face” [53] style that is not only unnecessary but also costing jobs and harming British forests as small and medium-sized enterprises are no longer willing to take on work which might require GLA licences [54] [55] [56] . The criticism failed to acknowledge the positive effect of the GLA's forestry pilot, which includes the removal of costly inspection fees complained of in the reports.


The GLA helpline (0845 602 5020) provides for workers to report mistreatment and illegal pay rates in the GLA regulated sectors. It is also possible to contact the GLA free and in confidence on the Reporting Line number 0800 432 0804. The UK government alsoset up the Pay and Work Rights Helpline for all workers in the UK to report abuses but this was ceased and superseded by the Acas Helpline 0300 123 1100 in March 2015.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 TUC and Ucatt want expansion in scope of GLA
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 section 14, Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004
  4. section 14, Schedule 2 to the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004

External links

Video clips