'Sham' businesses fail to get licences

A business set up to supply workers to vegetable packers has been refused a Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) licence after it was revealed to be a scam.

Primeval of Sparkhill, Birmingham, was refused its licence after GLA inspectors discovered that it was not a real business but a front for a former business, A-Z Employment, which had had its licensed revoked last December.

A-Z Employment was closed down because of a series of worker abuses and illegal practices at Worcestershire-based vegetable-packing firm Simms & Wood.

At the start of the inspection, GLA inspectors realised that Primeval was not, as claimed, run by Nazir Ahmen, but was in fact run by the front man Mazhar Iqbal of banned A-Z Employment.

The GLA also found during the inspection of Primeval:

- there were certificates on display belonging to Iqbal and another ex-employee of A-Z Employment;

- all the paperwork presented was a duplication of the paperwork used by A-Z Employment.

Other similar pieces of evidence, such as an incorrect National Insurance number and no company registration, led the GLA to conclude that Primeval was not run by Ahmed but was a front for the previous business of A-Z Employment.

Primeval appealed against the decision to refuse the licence. In dismissing this, the Appointed Person said: "I have grave concerns as to the ability of the Principal Authority to act as a fit and proper person in regard to his duties, in particular because his English is so poor, he lacks business acumen and he was manifestly ignorant in relation to key aspects of knowledge that is required to have been regarded as a fit and proper person to hold a gangmaster's licence.

"I am also troubled by the clear links between the appellant and A-Z Employment."

GLA chairman Paul Whitehouse said: "Primeval is nothing more than a 'phoenix' company. It's a scam and a sham."

He added: "If an abusive gangmaster thinks he can simply set up shop under a different name with someone to front the operation who is no more than a puppet, he needs to think again."

- Meanwhile, another gangmaster whose former Birmingham-based firm EMP Solutions was shut down by the GLA in December 2007 has also had his licence application for a new business, PTE UK, refused.

Owner Harnek Tung was not considered to be "fit and proper" to hold a GLA licence due to his systematic failure to address the non-compliances in his former business.

Among the major faults of which EMP Solutions was found guilty were:

- workers were paid below the minimum wage;
- there was no evidence of accurate payslips;
- there were no records kept of days and hours worked.

Whitehouse said: "If the GLA closes down a business because of its failure to meet GLA standards, it does not mean the gangmaster can set up another, under another name, with no questions asked. It makes a mockery of the system."

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