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The GLA must be saved with teeth or it will become the new Border Agency

The GLA must be saved with teeth or it will become the new Border Agency

The head of the UK’s top independent recruitment company says retaining the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) isn’t enough – it has to have the resources it needs to effectively regulate the use of temporary workers in the food industry or it will become the new Border Agency and vulnerable workers will remain at risk.

Media reports in October suggested the GLA was under threat of abolition as part of the Government’s Red Tape Challenge because its Whitehall champion, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) had been sidelined in the Star Chamber’s Bonfire of the Quangos debate in favour of DEFRA, which is heavily lobbied by the food industry.

But on 24 November, when asked by Labour MP Jim Sheridan during Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions, to reassure the House about how the GLA operates and is funded, James Paice, the Minister of State at DEFRA, said the future of the agency is safe.

Mr Paice said the work of the GLA “is still extremely important. Discussions are taking place within Government on whether DEFRA is the right place for the GLA &hellip but the existence and purpose of the GLA is absolutely right and will be maintained.”

While welcoming the ministerial assurance that the GLA will survive, Mark Mitchell, CEO of Meridian Business Support, says: “This can only lead to a national disaster and disgrace in which British, as well as vulnerable foreign temporary food workers will lose their lives so we can keep eating low-cost food. Just as an unknown number of migrants entered the country in the summer without full security checks because insufficient Border Agency resources necessitated reduced monitoring at borders.

“Already the lack of resources given to the GLA and DEFRA has meant the fisheries authorities had to consider destroying the cockle fishery in Morecambe Bay by dredging as the only effective way it had of stopping people putting their lives at risk to harvest the valuable crop.

“There’s something very wrong when the livelihoods of the sensible as well as the feckless have to be put in jeopardy to stop the latter putting their lives at risk because the agency responsible can’t work effectively because of insufficient funding. Imagine if the Government was thinking of burning fields of crops to stop farmers putting their lives at risk with unsafe tractors. It’s unthinkable, but preventable by properly resourcing the body and legislation we already have.

“The GLA needs to be given more teeth and resources, not less, to fulfil its goal of protecting the people of Britain who pick and process the food for our tables. It’s the only thing we have to protect vulnerable temp workers and it’s in danger of being emasculated, rather than reinforced, as part of the government’s Red Tape Challenge which is partly driven by the pro-business interests of the Tories.

“What we are seeing here is a creeping exploitation of high-volume, low-cost-production food manufactured by underpaid workers labouring in poor conditions and accommodated in bad housing, all to get low-cost food into our supermarkets.

“Current UK legislation doesn’t give the GLA the teeth and resources it needs to protect people like cockle pickers and I fear that while the GLA may be saved its ability to do its job may be further diluted.”

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