British authorities say Latvians made to work in ‘appalling’ conditions

British authorities have revoked the license of a labor provider that made a group of fruit pickers from Latvia live and work in what was described as “appalling” conditions.

Citing a “shocking catalogue of failures,” the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) announced Aug. 11 that it had taken the action against Plus Staff 24 of Skelmersdale, which is in Lancashire northeast of Liverpool.

The more than 30 workers from Latvia were not paid the national minimum wage, had to live in filthy and dangerous houses, and were taken to work in the fields in an uninsured minibus that sometimes was driven by an underage driver, the GLA said in a press release.

The GLA began operating in 2005 to curb the exploitation of workers in the agricultural, horticultural, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packing industries.

The authority named Jose Rosa as the director of Plus Staff 24, but also said that Maria Baptista, whose license had previously been revoked, was involved in the business.

Plus Staff 24 racked up 242 non-compliance points, the GLA said, when 30 is enough to revoke a license. The revocation went into effect July 22.

In one case, a Latvian was left owing Rosa money because the worker had to borrow cash at a repayment rate of 6 percent. The GLA also accused Rosa of not recording holiday and sick pay, and with failing to record deductions to pay on wage slips given to workers.

“This is a flagrant abuse of power over workers,” GLA Chairman Paul Whitehouse said in the press release. “When a human being has worked hard for a month and gets paid nothing after deductions and even owes the gangmaster money, how are they supposed to survive?”

Since March 2007, the GLA has revoked the licenses of 113 labor providers. Among them was Baltic Work Team Ltd., run by Latvian gangmaster Andris Tiltnieks, whose license initially was revoked in March 2007. Tiltnieks unsuccessfully appealed the revocation. In February 2008 he unsuccessfully sued The Guardian for GBP 3.7 million, claiming he was libeled by the British newspaper’s coverage of his business.

Workers rights brochure

Brochures such as this one in Latvian are distributed to workers by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *