by NADEEM BADSHAH
CAMPAIGNERS WANT SUPPORT FOR STAFF WORKING ILLEGALLY IN UK
CAMPAIGNERS are demanding an “amnesty” for restaurant staff working illegally in Britain to free them from being exploited by rogue bosses.
The groups have revealed that some chefs and kitchen staff from south Asia are being treated like slaves – by being paid below the minimum wage and forced to live in cramped and dirty housing by their employers.
In some cases, such workers are paid in cash without their employers deducting income tax or National Insurance and they also do not get sick leave or holiday pay.
Some restaurants are keeping chefs whose visas are due to expire – because of a shortage of skilled talent in the UK and tougher immigration laws which make it harder to hire staff from south Asia.
The Asian Catering Federation (ACF) has urged ministers to introduce the “curry chef amnesty” for restaurant employees which has been backed by Lord Sheikh, chairman of the Ethnic Diversity Council.
Syed Belal Ahmed, editor of Curry Life magazine, told Eastern Eye: “There is a shortage of chefs, so the government should bring them under the legal framework so they got the protection they deserve and can contribute to our economy by paying taxes.
“It is about their human rights, we should be ashamed that they are being exploited.
“Employers are finding a weakness. They are brought here under the hope of food and shelter, some are running for their lives and they are being exploited.
“Staying in shelter which is not habitable, squalid conditions. European workers are leaving due to Brexit and the lower value of the pound – we need workers.
“It is important the government consider all options like a temporary work permit. The shortage of chefs is across the board, not just the curry industry.”
Currently, an average of two curry restaurants in the UK are closing each week.
Restaurant owners say chefs of Bangladeshi origin have changed careers to become minicab drivers or working for Uber because they can earn more in those jobs.
This is despite immigration rules introduced in 2016 which say restaurants have to pay a minimum salary of £35,000 or £29,750 with accommodation and food for chefs from outside the EU to get a visa.
The government has tried schemes to encourage Britons to become skilled cooks, including training courses at colleges and universities.
Ahmed, who organises Asian food festivals around the world, added: “It is a noble idea, former minster Eric Pickles advocated curry colleges in 2013, but what happened to them?
“They cannot find people to subscribe to the courses. Jamie Oliver is closing some of his restaurants; a successful entrepreneur, what does that tell you?”
The ACF has also called for asylum seekers to be given temporary work permits while seeking the right to remain in the UK.
Fizza Qureshi, director of the Migrant Rights Network, has backed the proposals.
She told Eastern Eye: “We have seen and heard of employers and others take advantage of people because they do not have permission to stay in the UK.
“No-one should be left in a situation where they are at risk of exploitation and abuse because of their immigration status. The only way to remove this risk is to offer undocumented migrants a route to regularise their immigration status.
“So, we welcome this call from the Asian Catering Federation for an amnesty for undocumented migrant workers, and for asylum seekers to have the right to work too.
“These measures would go some way to reducing the staffing shortage in the catering sector, whilst ensuring people are not left in precarious situations.”
The Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs trade group has estimated around 10,000 chefs are needed to save the industry.
Yawar Khan, chairman of the ACF, said: “By releasing hard-working restaurant illegals from the hands of exploitative business owners, they would be free to enter the legitimate workplace, enjoy decent pay and conditions and help relieve the severe staff shortages in the industry. They would also then contribute their fair share of tax.”
Companies found guilty of knowingly employing illegal workers can be fined up to £20,000 for each illegal immigrant they hired. If found guilty of a criminal offence, company directors can receive an unlimited fine and sentenced to five years in jail.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Using illegal labour is not victimless. It cheats the taxpayer, undercuts honest businesses and cheats legitimate jobseekers of employment opportunities.
“We are happy to work with businesses to ensure that the right pre-employment checks are carried out, but we take robust action against employers who deliberately flout the rules.
“We continue to welcome the very top chefs, and such skilled chefs are on the shortage occupation list. But we also want to nurture more home-grown talent, so the restaurant sector must offer training to attract and recruit resident workers.”