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Agricultural Employers Beware of Gangmaster Laws

country house, farmIn a cautionary tale for agricultural employers, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a dairy company was justifiably prosecuted under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 for taking on a herdsman through an agency without checking that he was being paid the minimum agricultural wage.

The herdsman, who had a BSc in agriculture from a foreign university, had worked for Moss & Son Limited (the company) for four years and had no complaints about his treatment. However, unbeknown to the company, he had been financially exploited by the agency through which he was hired and which had failed to pay him the minimum agricultural wage.

The company was prosecuted under section 13(1) of the act and, after its application to strike out the proceedings as an abuse of process failed, it was convicted, given an absolute discharge and ordered to pay £1,000 costs by a district judge.

Dismissing the company’s appeal, the court emphasised that the offence was one of strict liability, subject to a defence of due diligence under section 13(2) which had not been advanced before the district judge. The court rejected arguments that the decision to prosecute was oppressive and contrary to the published policy of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority in respect of dairy farms.