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Shropshire gangmaster revoked for ‘chopping’ hours

The business held a GLA Licence to permit the supply of temporary workers to a number of food factories in the county

A Shropshire gangmaster has been stripped of his GLA licence after inspectors discovered his company was systematically ‘skimming’ workers’ pay, resulting in employees receiving less than the National Minimum Wage.

TRS Personnel Ltd, of Stafford Park, Telford, is run by Shrewsbury couple Jeff and Vicki Lawrence. The business held a GLA Licence to permit the supply of temporary workers to a number of food factories in the county.

However, the GLA investigated the company’s operations after receiving complaints that it was ‘chopping’ workers’ hours, resulting in underpayment of wages and a significant financial advantage for the business.

Following the inspection, the company’s licence to provide temporary workers to the fresh produce sector was revoked with immediate effect earlier this month. The deadline to appeal that decision has now passed.

The discrepancy over wages was revealed when the numbers of hours the factories being billed for was checked against and found to be greater than the number of hours for which employees were paid.

GLA Director of Licensing Nicola Ray said: “TRS Personnel systematically denied money due to their workers using a number of different methods – effectively preying on the lowly-paid by skimming their wages to boost company profits.

“By employing such tactics the employees received less than the National Minimum Wage and such pre-determined exploitation will not be ignored by the GLA. The Lawrences showed no willingness to comply with legal, regulatory or professional requirements and standards and have effectively now been banned from working in our regulated sector.”

Without a GLA licence, it is illegal for TRS Personnel to provide workers for temporary roles in agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering or any associated processing and packaging.

The company was found to have breached four of the GLA’s Licensing Standards – three of which were critical. One critical breach is sufficient for a licence revocation.

The first breach was the failure of Jeff Lawrence – the named Principal Authority on the licence – to act in a ‘fit and proper’ manner.

Payroll records produced appear to have been altered to disguise the underpayment of workers. From a typical sample period of four weeks in August 2015, 26 of 102 workers placed were found to have been paid for fewer hours than they had worked.

When asked for a schedule of holiday pay records for workers being supplied to one factory, the company produced a document with 56 names on it; but the payroll company had records for 268 workers being supplied for the same week.

On the TRS schedule the difference between the holiday pay due and actually paid was – in all but three cases – less than £20. On the unaltered payroll, more than 60 of the workers whose names were removed were owed more than £150 in holiday entitlements.

Further analysis of TRS records for three of the sample weeks showed that TRS Personnel had avoided paying £941 in one week in workers’ salaries, £659 in the next and £700 in the third.

In the same weeks – respectively – 48, 44 and 29 workers were found to have been paid less than the National Minimum Wage.

One employee received only £5.03 an hour compared with the £6.50 to which he was entitled. These underpayments led to the failure of a second critical standard – the requirement to pay wages correctly.

The third critical standard failed related to withholding wages – as workers were not given their accrued holiday pay when they left the company. Seven workers were checked as a sample and all left being owed between £50 and £170.

The final standard failed related to worker benefits in that the company should show that a worker receives the paid annual leave to which they are legally entitled.

Comparing a TRS schedule with one from the payroll company – for the period January to August 2015 – TRS showed that only one of 34 workers had accrued holiday pay and had received it. The corresponding payroll company schedule showed 147 workers had accrued holiday pay for that period but only 39 had actually been paid.

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