By Baroness Young of Hornsey - 12th December 2011
Baroness Young of Hornsey urges the government not to introduce a less rigorous inspection regime for the GLA as a result of their review.
The Gangmasters' Licensing Authority (GLA) was established in 2004 after the tragic deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay. Since then the GLA has been effective in addressing physical abuse on the part of employers from a range of industries. During the last year alone there have been over 180 enforcement cases, including allegations of unlicensed trading; more than 100 compliance inspections have been carried out as a result of allegations and complaints. Other work includes advisory inspections of both established and new businesses for compliance with regulations and standards.
The coalition government launched the Red Tape Challenge in April this year and it's due to run until 2013. There is a website, with a page asking the public to assist by suggesting rules and regulations that might be reviewed and modified if they're identified as inhibiting efficiency.
On October 12, Edward Davey MP, the business minister, said in the Commons that the government intended to 'undertake a review of workplace rights and enforcement to establish the scope to streamline them and make them more effective'. Of course, few would argue against supporting businesses to be more efficient and effective: there are many of us who are, however, concerned that a consequence of the review could be a less rigorous inspection regime and fewer employers brought to book for abusive, violent behaviour by the GLA.
The agency's strategy is to focus on the most serious cases of abuse, so there is a danger that the most vulnerable workers may not be able to secure their workplace rights. Part of the GLA's work involves alerting employees to their rights in difficult situations where it is in the employer's interests to keep them ignorant.
We hope that by tabling the question, the government will confirm that a) it is committed to ensuring that employers who use forced labour and other violent, abusive practices will be held to decent standards of employment, whatever the Red Tape Challenge review may recommend; b) it believes that the GLA performs a vital function by taking action against rogue employers, informing employees of their rights and supporting them when action needs to be taken.
There is widespread support for the Agency and its achievements across the political parties and within businesses and trades unions. Its presence and demonstrable effectiveness serves, I'm sure, as a deterrent to some unscrupulous employers. For many victimised employees, the only possibility of achieving some sort of justice is with the support of the GLA.
Professor Lola Youngis a visiting professor a Birkbeck College, London and is an arts and heritage consultant. She was raised to the peerage in 2004 and sits as a crossbencher.