Supermarket supplier raided in labour probe
From The Sunday Times
December 16, 2007
BEHIND the brightly coloured packaging of supermarket shelves lies a shadowy world of cheap labour and dubious business practices – even in Britain.
Last week a reporter joined a raid by government officials on a company in Worcestershire supplying food to Asda, Sainsbury and Morrisons. About 30 immigration officials and investigators from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority mounted the raid on a food-packing plant operated by Simms & Woods, a large supplier to the supermarkets.
They found 120 workers at a vegetable packing plant, many of whom barely spoke English. Investigators soon identified 12 of the staff as suspected illegal workers with forged identity documents. Others were unable to produce any papers at all.
Two gave their names as Jaroslav Tomi and Julius Zukyo, and said they came from Slovakia. But they said they did not know who they worked for and had no documents to prove their country of origin.
hey could say theye from Slovakia because they know it in the EU, said one official. Theye got] no ID papers, no training, no health and safety, no fire procedure. [Theye] unsupervised.
Both Tomi and Zukya, who claimed they were staying nearby, said they had entered the UK with the help of riends three months ago. Tomi, 18, had sliced his finger open but continued to work on the packing floor. He had fashioned a ramshackle dressing out of cling film. He claimed that he had no choice but to continue working.
Some workers claimed through interpreters that they were being paid below the minimum wage. There were also suspicions that some were not being paid for all the hours they worked. Some employees thought to have worked between 60 and 70 hours a week only had 39 hours shown on payslips, according to investigators.
The authority is investigating other suspected breaches of regulations at the plant. A minibus used to transport 14 workers was untaxed, had its back doors jammed and no fire extinguisher.
Many workers are supplied to Simms & Woods by gangmasters – middle men who organise cheap labour – who conduct few checks on whether workers are in the country legally. Three gangmasters who provide the company with labour are under investigation.
Simms & Woods, which also counts Lidl and Iceland among its customers, rejected the allegations. It said: he welfare of all of our workers is taken very seriously. We are awaiting the outcome of [the] investigation and if they have any issues or concerns then we will address them.
A spokesman said the company did not believe any employees were using forged papers and it ensured its workers were paid the minimum wage.
All the supermarkets supplied by Simms and Woods said that they would be launching their own inquiries. Lidl said: e expect all suppliers to treat their employees fairly and correctly and would completely disapprove of any illegal working practices.
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