The Gangmasters Licencing Authority’s extended remit could impact SMEs

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) is a non-departmental public body with a board of 30 members from industry and government, set up to protect workers from exploitation. The government is responsible for making sure the GLA fulfils its role.

Any employment agency, labour provider or gangmaster who provides workers to the sectors listed below, will need a GLA licence to operate legally:

  • Agriculture (including dairy farming)
  • Horticulture
  • Fish processing and shellfish gathering
  • Any associated processing and packaging (of food and drink products).

The Home Office is the government department responsible for the primary legislation – The Gangmasters (Licencing) Act 2004 – and secondary legislation which covers the GLA, the licensing scheme and the offences.

The scheme ensures that businesses who supply agency workers and businesses who need workers meet the employment standards that are required by law.

How does the licensing scheme work?

Labour providers are assessed by the GLA to check they meet the licensing standards which cover health and safety, accommodation, pay (National Minimum Wage), transport and training. They also check that labour providers are fit to hold a licence and that tax, National Insurance and VAT regulations are met.

A labour provider must have a GLA licence to work in the regulated sectors; it’s a criminal offence to supply workers without a licence or use an unlicensed labour provider.

What are the benefits of the licensing scheme?

  • Workers receive fair treatment, the pay, benefits and conditions they’re entitled to
  • Labour providers aren’t undercut by those who pay less than the minimum wage or avoid tax, and industry standards are raised
  • Labour users can check their workers come from a legitimate provider and are informed if their labour provider’s licence is revoked
  • Consumers can be assured that their food has been picked and packed in an ethical environment. Illegal activities which lead to a loss of public revenue – income tax, VAT and NI – are reduced.

Applying for a licence

To apply successfully for a licence, labour providers will need to show they meet the conditions of the GLA licensing standards. Labour providers must continue to comply with the licensing standards to keep their licence.

Any worker concerned that a labour provider is failing to meet the standards or is operating without a licence can contact the GLA. The GLA publish information on Workers Rights on their website, and their leaflets are available in 18 languages.

The GLA can be contacted on:

  • 0800 432 0804 to report concerns in confidence (Freephone number). Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm, you can leave a message outside of these hours
  • 0115 959 7049 (and leave a message outside of office hours using this number) or 0115 959 7052 to speak to one of the intelligence team
  • Email the intelligence team at
  • Their address – GLA, PO Box 10272, Nottingham, NG2 9PB.

The GLA also has public register that lists the labour providers who are licensed or who have applied for a licence. You can check the public register by:

  • Calling their helpline on 0845 602 5020 to confirm that a labour provider is licensed or check online
  • Click here to access the register
  • Providing workers without a GLA licence is a criminal offence that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Compliance checks and prosecutions

The GLA carry out compliance inspections and can revoke licences and prosecute labour users. In 2014 they carried out nearly 100 Compliance Inspections, the majority of which were employment agencies.

In April 2015, 13 people were arrested in Peterborough (in an operation jointly with the Police, the National Crime Agency [NCA], the British Red Cross and The Salvation Army) in an ongoing investigation into people trafficking and enforced labour of Slovakian nationals with the UK. 20 potential victims (including six children) were removed from several properties during the raids.

What now for the GLA?

Many are calling for an extension of the GLA’s remit to other sectors, which could mean agencies who regularly supply freelancers and contractors could come under their jurisdiction. In 2015, the government said they’d consult on the best way to use the GLA – the care, construction and hospitality industries their greatest concerns.

The GLA’s Chief Executive said he could see exploitation happening in other sectors but was powerless to do anything about it. The GLA Chair said:

“If there are exploited workers that we can see then we want to do something about it. It is a political decision as to what our remit is. We say we are happy to take it on if the government want to expand the scope of what we do then they need to give us more money to do it.”

The Labour Party, in their 2015 election manifesto, said it would extend the remit of the GLA where there is evidence of abuse of workers.

In October 2015, the government launched a consultation into extending the GLA’s powers to identify worker exploitation and breaches of the National Minimum Wage across other industry sectors – which could include car washers, hospitality, cleaners, care homes and construction companies. In early 2016, it was confirmed that the GLA will be retitled the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, with a remit to investigate worker exploitation in any sector and regardless of how they’re employed. More details to follow.


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