The Home Office is to take over responsibility for the authority which was set up to prevent workers being exploited in industries including agriculture and food processing.
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) was formed in 2005 in the wake of the Morecambe Bay cockle-picking disaster when 23 Chinese workers drowned on the sands.
It licenses companies which supply labour (gangmasters) to agriculture, horticulture, food processing and packaging and shellfish gathering, with its main aim of preventing worker exploitation.
The change was welcomed by chief executive Paul Broadbent, who said: “The GLA is pleased to move under the umbrella of the Home Office. We view it as a positive development and it is welcomed.
“In refocusing our efforts, we are uncovering more and more cases of vulnerable people being trafficked into the UK by organised criminals with the intention of making handsome but entirely unlawful and immoral profits. However, I stress this is not to the detriment of the civil regulatory powers we exercise, which we continue to carry out in equal measure.
“To tackle the problems associated with modern slavery, the GLA works regularly with the National Crime Agency and its UK Human Trafficking Centre, as well as local police forces – all are organisations within the remit of the Home Office.
“This is a logical move that can only lead to a more effective, joined-up approach in the fight against those driven by greed who seek to exploit workers.”
Diana Holland, the Unite union’s assistant general secretary, said: “Unite has long called for a much tougher line to be taken on rogue employers. It cannot be that, in modern Britain, unscrupulous employers find exploiting people so lucrative and have little fear of being caught and adequately punished.
“Prosecutions must be made easier, but if workers are too scared they’ll face criminal proceedings themselves then they will never step forward or blow the whistle on the crooks.
“Let’s not pretend that this is a pro-worker move from a Government that has taken apart employment rights, priced workers out of tribunals, is making it harder for workers to join unions and has allowed zero-hours contracts with their ‘hire and fire’ culture to take hold.
“This Government is no friend of working people.”