Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 131-139)

Wednesday 21 May 2003

Mr Peter Allenson, and Mr Don Pollard

  Q131  Chairman: Welcome to the Committee. Would you like to identify yourselves for the sake of the record, please?

  Mr Allenson: Chairman, I am Peter Allenson and I am the National Secretary for the Rural Agricultural and Allied Trade Group of the T&G.

  Mr Pollard: My name is Don Pollard and I see I have been described as a gangmaster expert. I am not quite sure what that means.

  Q132  Chairman: It means we cannot think of anything better.

  Mr Pollard: I have been doing research on gangmasters for some time.

  Q133  Chairman: You say that many of those who work for the unscrupulous gangmasters are recruited from abroad especially Eastern Europe. You did a report on gangmasters in Sussex and you described the process by which they came to the United Kingdom via holiday destinations like Greece and then the conditions in which they work when they got here. Would you like to summarise for us the conditions of people who are recruited by the dark side of this business?

  Mr Pollard: Okay. If I can start off. It depends how they are recruited. If they come in in some legal form the treatment is a lot better than if they come in illegally through false documents or if they come in semi-legally by being allowed into the country as a tourist or as a student but then become illegal when they start working. Once they are in that position of an illegal situation then their treatment is pretty bad. I think I have outlined the abuses in one of my reports but if you want me to go through some of them I will gladly. I must say, also, before I start, that the gangmaster issue is not just an issue about illegal immigrant labour, the majority of gangworkers are UK workers and, therefore, it is a problem for UK workers as well as illegal workers.

  Q134  Chairman: I was going to ask you what have you estimated as the proportion of those employed by these unscrupulous gangmasters who came illegally from abroad?

  Mr Pollard: It seems to be about 30% from the results that we have seen so far from Operation Gangmaster and raids they have had and feedback of who is legal and who is illegal.

  Q135  Chairman: In this business, of course, there are always a lot of accusations made, and sometimes when one says "Well, let us try and substantiate these, tie them down" it becomes less easy to do so. What is the evidence of workers being threatened and intimidated?

  Mr Pollard: I have personal experience myself of talking to workers who have been threatened. There was quite a well known case that occurred in Norfolk three years ago where somebody who spoke out to the press about the conditions gangworkers were facing was attacked in the middle of the night in his bedroom and beaten with metal bars. In that particular case the gangmaster was prosecuted and sentenced to five years in prison, but certainly verbal intimidation is a regular part of the day for gangworkers and physical intimidation is not unknown.

  Q136  Chairman: The extreme lengths you have referred to that gangmasters are prepared to go to to avoid responsibilities, could you give us an indication what those are? What is encapsulated within that phrase?

  Mr Pollard: They seem to operate on two levels. There is an official level, which is above board, where people are employed, pay taxes, are given payslips etc. There is another level, often designated through subcontractors, who take on workers who are off the books and who knowingly use illegal immigrant labour or use workers who they know are on benefits. There are two levels. Sometimes the same gangmaster might be involved in both sides.

  Q137  Mr Lepper: I think a lot of the work about gangmasters has focused on East Anglia. I know your union produced a report on the situation in Sussex about three years ago.

  Mr Pollard: Yes.

  Q138  Mr Lepper: I wonder if you could tell us whether since that report was produced in August 2000 you are aware of any improvements in the situation in the Sussex area in particular?

  Mr Pollard: The contact I have in Sussex, who I have to call Operation DeepThroat, because it is a gangmaster who tells me what is happening down there, he claims that it is getting worse.

  Q139  Mr Lepper: Worse.

  Mr Pollard: One of the main gangmasters in that area was arrested and imprisoned for VAT violations, his firm is still operating even though he is still in prison. I know of other cases where gangmasters are in prison. There is one in the Birmingham area. The gangmaster is in prison, again for VAT fraud, his firm is still operating, supplying farmers, supplying packhouses who in turn supply supermarkets.

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