Apple pickers ‘forced to forage in shop bins’

Gang master & Labour Abuse Authority Chief Executive  Paul Broadbent 
 Pic credit GLAA
Gang master & Labour Abuse Authority Chief Executive Paul Broadbent Pic credit GLAA

An illegal gang master who kept Romanian workers in an unheated outbuilding in Lurgan forced them to scavenge for out-of-date food from supermarket bins.

The Gang master & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) has highlighted the case study as part of an awareness raising campaign this week.

Gheorghe Ionas, 24, of Albert Avenue in Lurgan, pleaded guilty to acting as a gang master without a licence at Craigavon Magistrates’ Court in 2014. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

However, GLAA chief executive Paul Broadbent was “shocked and appalled” by the fact that only a £500 fine was handed down, and said he would appeal.

Mr Broadbent said: “I simply fail to see how this punishment fits the crime and is in any way a deterrent for someone who preyed on vulnerable men.”

Behind Ionas’ terraced house police discovered three Romanian men sleeping in an outbuilding of bare breeze blocks with no heating and limited electricity.

Craigavon Borough Council declared the building “unfit for human habitation”.

The men worked as apple pickers for which the gang master was paid £260 per week. However, the workers received only £100 per week, or £17 per day. The victims were forced to take out-of-date stock from the bins of local supermarkets to survive.

None of them were prepared to make formal complaints due to fear for their own safety and that of their families in Romania.