Examination of Witness (Questions 280-299)
Wednesday 4 June 2003
Dr Jennifer Frances
Q280 Mrs Shephard: So the responsibility
then is ours?
Dr Frances: No, I do not think
it is that, I think it is the industry as a whole. I do not think
it is the responsibility ofDo you mean of Government or
Q281 Mrs Shephard: As consumers.
Dr Frances: Yes, I think so. We
are participating in this. I beg your pardon, I misunderstood
Q282 Mrs Shephard: But consumers
cannot know. They are invited to know something about the conditions
in which birds and animals are kept, they are invited to know
whether products contain GM ingredients, but they are not invited
to know whether what they are eating has been harvested by people
living 40 to a house.
Dr Frances: I could not agree
more. Is there something that the supermarkets could do? Yes.
Q283 Mrs Shephard: Or is there something
that Government could do?
Dr Frances: I think that it is
very interesting that, of course, there is no brand identity on
fresh produce, there is very little information. We have lots
of information on how to cook it and how to titivate it and eat
it but there is absolutely no information, you are right. Fair
Trade Agreements do help in that respect and that is part of the
problem. This Committee has heard from many other people, as you
yourselves have mentioned today, about the abuses that take place
with very vulnerable people and those pressures are coming because
the system itself is abusive. If the grower is paying a gangmaster
to bring in temporary labour, he is picking the crop, he is sending
it into a distribution chain where he believes he has a contract
to buy, it is a relation contract, it is not a written contract,
and then for whatever reason his goods are rejected, he has no
other market in which to sell them and yet he has to carry the
cost of all that labour. Is it any wonder that if there are loopholes
on who is self-employed, who is a student, who has the right to
work, that he uses those loopholes. I think it is much more about
the system of doing business. I would not just want to say to
them, "You are responsible, sort it out" because I do
not think they would take that on board in the right way, perhaps
there needs to be a bit more encouragement.
Q284 Mrs Shephard: You think there
is no solution?
Dr Frances: Well, I do not know.
I am not clever enough to hold all the solutions, I am afraid.
Where is the gangmasters' forum? We talk about them and there
is a whole weight of history against them. It was Lord Shaftesbury
who brought in a Bill about separating the sexes of gangs and
he used the language of slavery, that in the 1860s they were seen
as enslaved people. The language has never moved on.
Q285 Mrs Shephard: Neither has the
Dr Frances: That is the problem.
I find it very hard when some gangmasters are the chairmen of
governors of schools. Are they all horrible, terrible, nasty people?
Q286 Mrs Shephard: No, of course
not, and nobody is claiming that. The point is that this Committee,
and indeed your own memorandum has contributed to it, has discovered
some pretty unpalatable untruths about the conditions in which
people, many of whom are foreign workers, are being employed.
You have set the background and it is extremely interesting and
a very well written paper. What I am trying to probe with you
is this: do we, given all that we know since the practice started
in 1820, sit about and say "too bad"? It is an unfair
question to you but we will have the opportunity to put it to
a minister. If you had a quick reply to that question it would
be good and others want to ask you things as well.
Dr Frances: I suppose what I am
saying is I think that the key question is should gangmasters
be registered and I have fought with what that might mean. I do
not see gangmasters as any different from labour agencies. There
is a Labour Agencies' Employment Act, there is a Labour Agencies
Inspectorate. Why is it that we have got a whole Committee simply
to look at gangmasters? Why are we not looking at casual labour
itself because the abuse does not just happen in agriculture,
it happens across a whole range of industries, but particularly
in the food chain and further up, as we say, in the food processing,
in distribution and so on. I know what I am arguing, I am arguing
for a wider view of things. Also, why is there not a gangmasters'
forum? Why have we not got 20 of them together? Why do we not
know about their issues and their solutions? I cannot sit here
and truly believe that they set out to abuse people.
Q287 Patrick Hall: Some do, there
is evidence of that.
Dr Frances: I am not denying that.
Seventy to 80% of all fresh produce that we eat goes out through
the supermarkets. They use category managers, very, very large
professional growers, for that food to be done. Those growers
in their turn are employing full-time people and using a range
of gangmasters and seasonal agricultural workers. I cannot believe
that the whole of that industry is done by just abusive means.
Even in the Fresh Produce Study Report, which did the assessment
of Operation Gangmaster, although it said it had a huge amount
of difficulties in trying to assess that, there is a section where
it asked the people it interviewed about their level of satisfaction
with their gangmaster employersadmittedly most of these
people worked regularly for the same gangmaster and they say that
there are difficulties about thatand 80% expressed satisfaction
with their employer. What I am saying is I am not here to say
there is not abuse, I am not here to say that at all, or that
there are not things to be done, but I find it strange that we
are not talking to the industry as a whole, we are talking to
sections of that industry.
Q288 Mr Mitchell: I think your research
is fascinating, particularly the historical side of it, but how
typical is it? Here you are extolling gangmasters and your work
is based on one particular family business which had been going
for some time in an area where people trusted each other and knew
each other enough to have a shakes hand deal and a fairly settled
routine and you say 80% expressed satisfaction instead of trying
to murder the boss, but how typical is that?
Dr Frances: This man was prosecuted
for fraud some years ago as well. Most gangmasters when they became
registered for VAT found that a very difficult system to deal
with and it is a slow educative process.
Q289 Mr Mitchell: Was he standing
around when 80% expressed satisfaction?
Dr Frances: I have no idea, Mr
Mitchell. I come here trying to put forward from a research point
of view perhaps a more balanced point of view in the sense that
I do not represent anybody and at the present moment in this part
of the debate I am saying that they were written off with exactly
the same language in 1843, they were written off in 1867, and
it has gone on and on and on in the way that they are written
off, yet we do not seem to mind their contribution in organising
these people to lift produce from the land into our mouths. I
find it very difficult when I read through that people do not
seem to understand the way in which people are paid, there is
always the view that the gangmaster literally takes the money
from the employee but, as my memorandum points out, that does
not seem to be the way in which it works. I suppose what I am
trying to say is I really do not feel that there has been a balanced
view, a view in the round, of how they operate.
Q290 Mr Mitchell: Do not rush to
form the National Association for the Rehabilitation of Gangmasters
just yet because your research is fascinating, and it is one of
the few insights we have got, and I get the impression from it
that it is changing into almost another of the kind of agencies
which proliferate in every line of business from lorry driving
to dock work and really the GMA, in the case of your particular
study, is becoming just an agency matching people to jobs for
its own profit.
Dr Frances: Yes. The quoteI
am not sure if I put it in the memorandumsays "This
is a system we use in many, many industries". It is used
in chocolate making, it is used in the newspaper industry, he
supplied all over the place. That is what I throw back to you.
Q291 Mr Mitchell: Are they organised
like other agencies?
Dr Frances: Yes, they are a labour
agency. That is what I say: what is a gangmaster? I have given
a definition for simple use, that it is somebody located with
a specific expertise in agricultural labour. I have been on spring
onion fields where a gang of 400 have been brought on in the morning,
they have been promised a day's work, it is 7.30, but by 12 o'clock
Tesco representatives rush around shouting "Stop, stop, the
order has been cancelled" basically because they have gone
through the checkout and the technology is integrated enough to
know this is not required. The gangeras we know it goes
down several layersis running around trying to find who
will go in the meat processing factory, who does not want to work,
who wants to go somewhere else, etc., etc. That is an enormous
thing to organise. Yes, I am arguing that gangmasters are no different
from any other labour agencies. There is a Labour Agency Inspectorate
and I believe that the labour agency legislation at this moment
is being looked at.
Q292 Mr Mitchell: That is very interesting,
that there should be a sudden cessation of work because Tesco
wants the supply curtailed, because I got the impression from
your paper that the main reason for switching the tap on and off
was seasonal, harvest time or whatever, which must be the same
all over the country.
Dr Frances: No.
Q293 Mr Mitchell: At one point in
the evidence you did seem to be criticising supermarkets for creating
jobs. That is not a criticism, that is the thing it pays them
Dr Frances: I believe Mrs Shephard
asked me why there are not people in the rural areas and that
is because they are now working in supermarkets and
Q294 Mrs Shephard: I did not ask
Dr Frances: I am sorry, I beg
Q295 Mr Mitchell: So what changes,
apart from that kind of abrupt termination you have just mentioned,
have the supermarkets brought? Is it just increased pressure and,
therefore, the seasonal verities of harvest and fruit-time do
not apply much?
Dr Frances: No, they do not, there
is very little seasonal variation. Supermarkets work very hard
with growers to extend the growing seasons, not with genetically
modified but with simple plant breeding methods. What is wanted
is consistency of supply. I will go back a little. When the supermarkets
moved to the edge of town in the 1970s they also put in the latest
technology. Our technology in retail is well in advance of any
other country. Myself and Dr Garnsey, who is here, were invited
to an e-sector conference by the Brookings Institution, which
is the think-tank in America, and the OECD and we were the only
group from the UK asked to give a comparative study in retailing
because our systems in the supermarkets here and their uses of
technology for ordering are so advanced. When the bar codes are
scanned that data is used to form the order for the grower. They
are automatically connected. They started to be connected through
EDI (electronic data interchange) in the late 1970s, and for growers
that was extremely expensive because they each needed a piece
of software, so if you had five supermarkets you had five business
systems being run by the grower. There is a new generation bar
code coming in now and systems are being altered. For example,
it is a lot easier for smaller growers to join in because you
can do things over the internet; you do not need the proprietary
data. What happens is that these orders are made and it used to
be a 24-hour lag. It is now down to ten in the evening for six
in the morning, so these orders are very tight. What happens with
the supermarket is that you have a relational contract with the
grower. You say, "Yes, put your carrots in the ground; I
will buy them". You keep reviewing that and it goes on and
you go down to three months, you go down to a month, you look
at the weather forecast for the week, you look at how people are
buying vegetables and so on. This is for every produce. Then you
start looking at the data of people going through the checkout
on the day. That is how sharp it is and that is why the labour
needs to be turned on and off by tap. Literally, as we buy, a
job is at stake. This labour scheduling is extremely tight and
that is why workers are being pulled in from wherever they can
come to meet this flow and nobody wants to carry that.
Q296 Ms Atherton: Were you looking
specifically only at East Anglia, because the area that I represent
is Cornwall and our peak season is not at the same time as East
Anglia? Indeed, the winter months are the time that we are wanting
seasonal workers and that is when we have a particular problem.
One of the reasons initially that I brought this whole issue to
the attention of the Committee was that we were having people
literally laid off in a way that you are not talking about and
that does not have any resonance for me. The people in Cornwall
are coming in to do cauliflowers and they are picking bulbs. I
will accept that the local people will not do this. This was traditional
work that is now not wanted. The people of Cornwall in the nineties
moved into the packing houses; we are a few years behind everywhere
else, okay, and so there is a real labour shortage, but the farmers
are saying to me that they do know who is legal or illegal. They
have no idea. They are presented with a range of different names,
they are told categorically by the gang masters that they do not
want the supermarkets or anyone else on their backs and they are
just going to take whoever comes along and be grateful for it
because there is just not this tap that you are talking about.
They are at the end of the line, so whoever turns up in the white
mini van is the person they are going to employ that day. I just
ask if you have had other experiences in other parts of the country
because it did not resonate.
Dr Frances: I am sorry; perhaps
I am not being very clear, but I would say that that is exactly
the case, is it not? I hear what you say and I say that for the
people that I have interviewed in the areas that I have been to
that is the case. There is no way that the gangmasters can check
these documents and, even speaking to the Labour Agencies Inspectorate,
they say they cannot check these documents either when they go
in. It is terribly hard to know whether someone has a forged document
and, more to the point, there are so many variations on who needs
to have national insurance or not and there are so many loopholes.
Because of this pressure of requiring people on the day you take
who and what comes. I do not know the Cornwall area. All I can
say, because this is not an area which attracts funding and therefore
the research that I have done into the agricultural aspects has
not been funded; I have done it myself, is that I did run a small
pilot study where I contacted every representative of the Rural
and Agricultural and Allied Workers Union who, as you know, are
part of the T&G, and asked them if they had casual work in
their area and everybody said they did. In speaking to people
in various parts of the country, speaking to growers and so on,
and I have spoken to more growers across the country than I have
gangmasters, they certainly do use these systems and it is as
you describe. What have I misrepresented to you?
Q297 Ms Atherton: That people would
switch from one area to another. If you are only picking bulbs
it is not the same intensity, and so there are differences.
Dr Frances: We have a lot of food
processing. Thirty 5% of manufacturing in the east of England
region, that is the six counties of the east of England, is in
food processing, so there are a lot of alternative jobs to go
Q298 Mr Drew: We have a notion about
the care of animals now, and Gillian was picking this up on the
welfare issue, but we also have a notion about traceability. Why
can we not have traceability in terms of this? If something has
been proved to have been provided illegally, why can we not prosecute
the supermarket in the same way that we would do with a piece
of meat? What is the difference?
Dr Frances: In a nutshell, none,
and it is absolutely right. Since the 1990 Food Act on traceability
the powers have been given to the supermarkets and that is why
they have such penetration in the name of consumer safety all
the way down the food chain. There is absolutely no reason that
you could not. The key thing is how whoever is doing that will
know what is a forged document or not a forged document. Also,
I could go and say, "I am self-employed". If you are
dealing with 1,000 people on a daily basis and you are keeping
a daily record of their work, which may change in the middle of
the day, how do you envisage who is going to look at that document
every day or question everybody? If I say, "I am self-employed
and therefore I do not want you to take my national insurance
contributions", how is that going to work?
Q299 Mr Drew: My answer to that is
that if you are dealing with thousands of animals you cannot actually
answer when people say, "This is a legitimate source",
and if we choose to buy from abroad it comes at a cost. I am quite
impressed at the moves we have made towards traceability in terms
of the meat supply and yet when we come to human beings and we
seem to have dramatic problems. I think the dramatic problems
are because certain people want to turn a blind eye because it
makes it far easier for them to justify the low price of food.
If they do not ask the question then they do not have to have
any unpleasant answers and I just think there is a very clear
parallel there, that if someone wanted to get in here and afterwards
say to the supermarkets, "You cannot justify that that was
farmed legitimately. You will be fined not just now but regularly
and the fines will increase", they would get their act together
Dr Frances: That may be the way.
All I would say is that of course with animals we have tagged
Mr Drew: We will have ID cards soon under new