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Farmers accused of breaching the gangmaster legislation, which aims to protect agency workers in the agricultural industry, were recently discharged by a Magistrate’s Court in Swindon. The farmers were prosecuted by the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA) for hiring foreign workers from an unlicensed Wiltshire-based recruiter, Marden Management.
The farmers pleaded guilty to using the services of an unlicensed gangmaster but were given an absolute discharge. Last Friday, they were also ordered to pay £300 each towards costs of the prosecution, but have not been ordered to pay any fines.
The district judge said that the GLA’s guidance at the time was misleading because it was unclear whether the rules applied to the dairy industry. The original investigation into Marden Management started almost three year ago.
National Farmers’ Union president, Peter Kendall, welcomed the news. He said the farmers co-operated with the GLA investigation into Marden Management, but were shocked when they received summonses.
But GLA chief executive, Paul Broadbent, was disappointed with the verdict. “The GLA is disappointed in the outcome of these cases. This was by far the most serious example the authority has tackled exclusively, in terms of the intentional, well-organised and systematic financial exploitation of workers, but the punishment does not fully reflect that.”
He said the farmers were part of an “exploitative enterprise” and benefitted from cheap labour. Many of the farm workers involved in the case are now earning between £400 and £500 a month more through legal labour suppliers, he said.
Marden Management’s boss, Christopher Blakeney, last year pleaded guilty to eight charges of operating as a gangmaster without a licence.