Gangmasters use intimidation tactics, including firing automatic weapons, to force contractors to accept workers.
Gangmasters for groups of illegal foreign workers are waging a campaign of violence and intimidation against contractors who refuse to employ their labour.
Construction union UCATT and the National Federation of Builders have both received reports of attacks by gangmasters, which include firing shots on sites and threatening violence against employers and their families. It is understood that the gangs are made up of mainly Albanian workers, thought to be living in Britain illegally.
An NFB spokesperson said: “We take such reports seriously and will be monitoring the situation closely. Any member company approached in a threatening manner should contact the police and report the matter to the NFB.”
It is understood the gangmasters arrive at sites with groups of about 10 men and approach the site manager to secure employment for the workers on a cash-in-hand basis. The gangmaster receives up to £10 per hour for each worker but pays the gang members less than the minimum wage. Site managers who refuse to take the workers say they have faced threats and violence, with some gangmasters opening fire on the site with automatic weapons.
The owner of one Kent-based firm, who did not want to be named, said he was looking to sell his business as a result of the gangs. He said: “They’re a mafia. I’ve already sold one part of my business, and I’m looking to sell the other. Our site agents have been threatened and are leaving our employment.
“I know a demolition contractor that has seen shots fired on its site, and the gangmaster who approached us threatened to shoot my children if we didn’t take his people on. A gun was produced when we refused, and eight other people got out of vans holding automatic weapons.”
The source said he had reported the incidents to police, but they could not take action as they had no means of identifying the people involved, who were believed to be working in Britain illegally.
UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said he had raised the issue with the DTI, as the union had received a number of calls from contractors. He said: “From what people have said, these problems are becoming ever more common. This is gangsterism and it must be stopped.”
It is understood that the problems are most widespread in London, Essex and Kent, but incidents are understood to also have occurred in Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield.
Alan Ritchie this week met Europe minister Douglas Alexander over fears about the European Union’s services directive. Ritchie is worried that labour-only subcontractors will be able to come to the UK and work to the health and safety rules of their country of origin, which could be lower than that of the UK.