An illegal gangmaster who made Romanian workers scavenge in bins while charging them to live in an unheated shed has been fined just £500.
Gheorghe Ionas, 35, pleaded guilty to operating as an illegal gangmaster, a crime which in some cases can carry a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. But Craigavon magistrates’ court, which could have ordered a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail, asked him to pay just £500.
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which investigated the case in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, said it was “shocked and appalled” by the leniency of the punishment and would be appealing against it.
The full-time orchard workers typically received around £100 a week, after being paid £7 per container of picked apples, far below the minimum wage. They were also forced to scavenge for out-of-date food from supermarket bins and charged to live in a breeze-block shed that investigators said was “unfit for human habitation”. Their transport to the UK, as well as to and from work, was also docked from their wages.