The term gangmaster describes somebody who provides 'gangs' of casual labour to the agriculture and horticulture industry. Many gangmasters operate within the law; clearly there are many who do not. We were very disappointed to find that six years after setting up an inter-departmental working party on the issue, the Government appears to be no nearer to establishing the numbers in either category.
We conclude that the Government has failed to confront the problems in the industry. Enforcement of existing legislation is perfunctory and uncoordinated. We were singularly unimpressed by the evidence from Operation Gangmaster, the Government's cross-departmental enforcement body. The enforcement agencies are insufficiently resourced and lack the political backing to make a significant impact on illegal activity within the agriculture and horticulture labour market.
We also conclude that the decline in the supply of casual labour in rural areas and the relationships between the supermarkets and their suppliers are significant contributory factors to the problem. There are issues which require a cross-departmental response. The Government should establish a mechanism by which different Departments can work together to develop appropriate policy solutions. We make a number of suggestions for such solutions based on the evidence received during the course of our inquiry.
Underpinning the way labour is organised is the desire to ensure that fresh produce reaches our tables at the cheapest price. Our evidence suggests that meeting that desire is not without cost. The Government and the industry must now confront these issues if we are to be convinced that abuses of casual labour in rural areas are not an integral and unavoidable consequence of the way the food chain is currently structured and regulated.