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A West Midlands labour agency that illegally employed Romanian workers, then supplied them to a farm in the Cotswolds by passing them off as Hungarian, lost its gangmaster’s licence.
Using Romanian workers who were not self-employed, and misleading a labour user about their nationalities, were just some of the problems discovered by officers from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) at the company Foxwell Ltd.
The company was found to have breached no fewer than 11 different licensing standards – three of them critical - in supplying workers to a vegetable farm in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire.
Under the Gangmasters Licensing Act, any labour provider supplying workers for agricultural roles requires a licence and must comply with its conditions to protect workers and prevent exploitation.
GLA Chief Executive Paul Broadbent said: “Our investigations revealed that Foxwell avoided any searching questions from the farm about the legality of their Romanian workers by claiming they were Hungarian.”
“By contrast, Foxwell correctly told the GLA they were Romanian, but maintained they were self-employed, which, if true, would exempt them from requiring a work permit. From the conversations taking place between the company and our officers, however, it soon became clear that these workers were controlled and supervised at the labour user site just like any other employee.”
“They were also not allowed to provide a substitute person to perform their role - another known test for self-employment. In fact, the managing director of Foxwell, Mohammad Azeem, was unable to explain how he would carry out an assessment to establish if a worker were self-employed, which was a vital consideration under the circumstances,” he concluded.
Notification that the licence was to be revoked was sent to Mr Azeem in March. The company initially lodged an appeal against the decision but this has now been withdrawn and the revocation came into effect on 23 September 2013.
Other issues uncovered by the GLA inspection included: inadequate records of hours worked for calculating worker wages; not allowing a worker paid leave to attend ante-natal appointments; having no record of complaints or any formal procedure in place to handle them; and failing to provide adequate toilet and first aid facilities for field workers.
The inspection report concluded that Foxwell’s non-compliance with 11 GLA licensing standards was ‘persistent and systematic’.
GLA licence revocations are triggered using a penalty point ‘totting up’ system, similar to that used a on a UK Driving Licence, with a total of 30 points or more resulting in the loss of a licence. Foxwell failed three critical and eight non-critical standards amassing a total of 214 points.
It is illegal to supply workers to the GLA sector without a licence. This is a criminal offence for which the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment.