The biggest move in fresh produce labour supply since the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) was axed has divided opinion among industry leaders.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has acted to clarify how “spurious or meaningless” pastoral care that isn’t clearly distinguished as being optional constitutes a breach of its rules on job-finding fees, which it claims can be a “severe source of exploitation”.

While some leading labour suppliers, like Jimmy Davies of Staffline, have vehemently welcomed GLA Brief Issue 38, others believe that it is unclear, and a potential “backwards step” for the fruit and veg sector.

David Camp, director of the Association of Labour Providers, which helped compile the brief, said: “It’s always been illegal for workers to be charged for work-finding services - GLA Licensing Standard 7.1 makes this clear. Yet the GLA stance on practices that had built up over the years wasn’t clear. This brief lays down a clear position of its interpretation of Licensing Standard 7.1, and further legitimises our sector.”

But HOPS Labour Solutions’ director John Hardman, argued: “If a farm now has to recruit people itself, doesn’t take out the appropriate insurance, and then has an issue with an employee, there’s not an intermediary to make arrangements should something diabolical happen. If a firm wants to deal with everything that follows a tragedy, that’s fine, but that’s what pastoral care pays for, and this brief could damage that service.”

Rob Orme, labour supplier Concordia’s CEO, said: “Optional non-work finding services offered by legitimate overseas agents are important when going abroad to work, where individuals may have limited language or no social connections, and are therefore more vulnerable.

'If people don’t get the support they need, they’re more likely to be exploited. If these guidelines lead to legitimate overseas agents being pushed out and a black market, it’d be a backward step after ten or so years of progress, and risks opening an opportunity for more exploitation.”

HOPS plans to meet with fellow labour suppliers and the GLA to see if changes to the brief are possible.