Victor Foster Poultry Services is being closed down after a damning investigation by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
The firm is one of the UK’s biggest chicken catching businesses, but it is being forced out of business at the end of November, after having its licence revoked.
The ruling has caused concern for some farm businesses throughout the UK who rely on Victor Foster’s estimated 120 catching teams. “They have been a vital part of the industry,” says one leading poultry producer. “This could cause enormous problems. Yes, they were lax with paperwork but they operated all over the UK and the business itself was sound.”
The company, which is based in Northern Ireland but also operates throughout the UK, was found to have breached the GLAA’s licensing standards in three critical areas and was described by the GLAA as well as “not being fit and proper”.
“The GLAA found that VFPS was unwilling to comply with the standards and had shown a wholesale disregard for the licensing scheme,” the authority said in a statement.
Its licence was revoked because it could not show the GLAA that its workers were being paid accurately and taking adequate rests during their shifts. Workers also told inspectors that they did not receive copies of their contracts.
Concerns were raised that the drivers transporting workers were working incredibly long shifts with insufficient rest periods. On one occasion, GLAA inspectors found that a worker completed an 18-hour shift, had under six hours as a break before he was back out for a 19-hour shift.
VFPS appealed the GLAA’s decision to revoke its licence, claiming that it was disproportionate as they had rectified all the issues highlighted during the inspection.
However, a hearing held in Nottingham from 8 to 10 October dismissed the appeal.
Judge Peter Britton supported the GLAA’s position that compliance with the licensing standards must be demonstrated at the time of inspection, not at a later date.
GLAA Head of Licensing Charlotte Woodliffe said: “This is a tremendous result for our hard-working licensing and compliance teams. We are pleased that the judge upheld our original decision and agreed with our assessment that there were several key breaches of our licensing standards.
“We hope this result sends a strong message to businesses who are acting unlawfully within the sectors regulated by the GLAA. We will find out if you are breaching the standards and we will not hesitate to put you out of business when you are caught.”
VFPS has 28 days from the decision to wind up the business before the licence is revoked. Any trading after this date would be considered a criminal offence.
Poultry Business understands the catching teams are now likely to be transferred to another operator, and it is hoped disruption will be minimal.
Businesses across the UK used the firm as an essential provider of catching services. The NFU’s chief poultry advisor Gary Ford says the 28-day period allowed by the court for the business to be wound up has “allowed the catchers to be picked up by other operators”.
While Avara Foods employs its own catching teams, both 2 Sisters and Moy Park use contractors.
Moy Park said it had not recently used Victor Foster Poultry Services, and 2 Sisters declined to comment.