Prime Minister’s scathing attack on a gangmaster as he announces new measures designed to root out exploitation
PUBLISHED: 14:53 10 April 2014 | UPDATED: 16:31 14 April 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron launched a scathing attack on a gangmaster as the government unveiled new measures designed to root out exploitation.
The prime minister labelled as “inhumane, deplorable and unacceptable” the crimes of Lithuanian national Audrius Morkunas, who was the first gangmaster to be jailed in the UK under a special law.
Saying Morkunas had “no place in Britain”, Mr Cameron claimed more offenders would be brought to justice after it had moved the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority into the Home Office.
And he also promised to give British workers a “fair crack at the whip”, with plans to force job agencies to advertise vacancies in English.
The timing of the announcement will be seen as a direct challenge to the UK Independence Party, which is raising concerns about immigration in its bid to win seats in the European Elections next month.
Mr Cameron said: “We’ve all heard the terrible stories: vulnerable people being trafficked to Britain, forced to live in squalid conditions, made to work for little or no money – all the while at the complete mercy of illegal gangmasters.
“But these aren’t just stories; they’re a reality in Britain today – including right here in East Anglia.”
He said that while the GLA, which was set up a decade ago after 23 Chinese cockle pickers died in Morecambe Bay, had successfully prosecuted 69 people and revoked 40 licences in East Anglia, he wanted to go “further and faster” to protect the vulnerable and to root out the perpetrators.
The GLA move will see it work alongside the National Crime Agency - a measure the government claims will help ensure offenders face tougher enforcement action and stronger sanctions.
But Labour Euro MP Richard Howitt dismissed the announcement, claiming the GLA was in fact being starved of resources.
“Today’s announcement serves only to draw attention to the starving of the GLA of resources and the cut to its remit in September 2013,” he said.
“With both the number of compliance inspections (so far 13 this year, compared with 41 in 2010) and convictions (two this year, compared to 19 in 2010) falling since this Government took over I worry that the GLA will not just be transferred but essentially fail to exist.
“It needs more resources and to be far more proactive in chasing down the gangmasters who exploit and undercut wages.
“To introduce bigger fines is meaningless if there are fewer and fewer compliance inspections carried out, and cuts to local authority’s health officers further impede inspections of multi-occupation housing.
“I’m less interested in the level of fines and punishments than the appalling level of pay for workers.
“I’ve made repeated calls for the Government to crack down on tackling unscrupulous gangmasters who undercut local wages and last year I even brought a high-level European delegation from the European Parliament’s Employment Committee to Thetford and Wisbech to hear firsthand about the real life experiences of migrants themselves and of the communities to which they come
North-East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay said the move would make it much easier for the police to liaise with the GLA, but said the government should go further and make it easier for civil fines to be imposed.
UKIP Eastern MEP candidate Patrick O’Flynn said: “Any extra effort made by the Government to combat illegal working is welcome. But nothing can disguise the fact that the coalition has almost no control over Britain’s borders.
“So long as we have a complete open door to more than two dozen neighbouring countries because of our membership of the European Union nobody should expect uncontrolled immigration to cease.”
Mr Cameron has also launched a consultation on new regulations which will make sure these agencies advertise vacancies in English, in the UK.
“That will give workers in Britain a fair crack of the whip when it comes to getting a job themselves, meaning more economic security for people across our country,” he said.