Tackling Worker Exploitation by ‘Gangmasters’ in the UK and Australia - Part 2: From Labour Hire Licensing to Modern Slavery Laws – By Katharine Booth

Editor’s note: Katharine Booth holds a LLM, Advanced Programme in European and International Human Rights Law from Leiden University, Netherlands and a LLB and BA from the University of New South Wales, Australia. She is currently working at the Asser Institute in The Hague. She previously worked as a lawyer and for a Supreme Court Justice in Australia.


Both the UK and Australia have enacted legislation regulating the activities of ‘gangmasters’ or labour hire providers. Part 1 of this series of blog posts examines the circumstances that led to the enactment of labour hire licensing schemes in both the UK and Australia, and some key limitations of these laws.  Part 2 explores two issues closely connected to the business and human rights context. (1) Reform (in the UK) and potential reform (in Australia) of these laws in light of the increasing national and international recognition of modern slavery, human trafficking, labour exploitation and other human rights violations in corporate supply chains. Both the UK and Australia have enacted ‘modern slavery laws’ requiring certain companies to publish annual statements addressing human rights violations in their operations and supply chains. At the same time as the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act, the relevant gangmasters licensing authority (the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA)) was empowered with broad ‘police-like’ powers to investigate offences under that Act. These powers have shifted the authority’s focus from the passive regulation of the gangmasters licensing scheme to the active enforcement of compliance with the Modern Slavery Act. (2) However, as currently enacted, modern slavery laws are not perfect. A key criticism of these laws is that they do not impose strong enforcement mechanisms (particularly financial penalties) on companies that fail to comply with their provisions. The imposition of penalties is central to ensuring that companies take note of the importance of eliminating slavery from their supply chains. More...


Tackling Worker Exploitation by ‘Gangmasters’ in the UK and Australia - Part 1: An Overview of Labour Hire Licensing Laws in the UK and Australia – By Katharine Booth

Editor’s note: Katharine Booth holds a LLM, Advanced Programme in European and International Human Rights Law from Leiden University, Netherlands and a LLB and BA from the University of New South Wales, Australia. She is currently working at the Asser Institute in The Hague. She previously worked as a lawyer and for a Supreme Court Justice in Australia.

 

This series of blog posts focuses on the regulation of so-called ‘gangmasters’ in the UK and Australia. A ‘gangmaster’ is an old English term for a person (an individual or business) who organises or supplies a worker to do work for another person.[1] Gangmasters have been described as ‘middlemen’ or ‘brokers’ between a worker and a business that needs temporary, and often seasonal, labour. In other countries, including Australia, gangmasters are commonly referred to as labour hire providers or labour market intermediaries.

In recent years, legislation has been implemented in the UK and three Australian States (Queensland, Victoria and South Australia) requiring gangmasters to be licensed. According to Judy Fudge and Kendra Strauss, central to these licensing schemes is the protection of vulnerable workers from forced and unfree labour and exploitation:

“[E]vidence suggests that ‘sweating’ at the bottom end of the labour market (increasingly populated by migrant workers, both documented and undocumented, in many countries) often involves labour intermediaries who exploit the ways in which processes of racialization and the construction of new categories of social difference, instigated by immigration regimes, render some workers extremely vulnerable—including to forced and unfree labour.”

As noted by Kendra Strauss, migrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation as they often migrate from less developed economies, have a precarious migrant status, and are employed in poorly-paid positions. They often lack English language skills and have little knowledge of their legal entitlements and pathways for accessing remedies which, according to an Oxfam GB report, makes it unlikely that they will report abuse or exploitation, for fear of losing their jobs. Moreover, as Sayomi Ariyawansa explains, the three-tiered or tripartite arrangement between the worker, gangmaster and host business means that there is no direct contractual relationship between the worker and host business and little oversight of the legal arrangements between the worker and gangmaster. This makes it easy for unscrupulous gangmasters to slip through legal cracks, but also for businesses to unknowingly enter into arrangements with gangmasters that do not comply with the law.

This series of blog posts explores the connection between the regulation of gangmasters and the enactment of modern slavery legislation, namely legislation calling on companies to report on modern slavery and other labour and human rights abuses in their corporate supply chains. It is divided into four main parts. Part 1 of this series explores two main issues. (1) The circumstances that led to the enactment of gangmaster licensing schemes in the UK and Australia, and the laws’ provisions relating to the licensing of workers. (2) The limitations of these laws, particularly the inability of licensing schemes to hold liable companies that enter into business arrangements with gangmasters, as well as companies higher in the supply chain. Part 2 explores reform of these laws in the UK and Australia in view of the relatively recent modern slavery legislation implemented in both countries.More...