It was recently reported in London-based Spanish language publication El Iberico that on 4 July, UK gourmet burger chain Byron Hamburgers lured a number of Latin American workers from 15 of its London restaurants to “training sessions” that in fact turned out to be UKBA immigration raids. El Iberico reports that 50 workers have already been deported and 150 more are reported to be in hiding.
Some of these workers had been employed by Byron for 4 years, and with an alleged 200 workers without work permits in 15 of Byron’s 56 UK restaurants alone, it seems impossible for Byron to claim that they weren’t aware that they were hiring workers without permits en masse. A source at one of Byron’s restaurants outside of London which was not included in the 4 July raid told us that UKBA were also conducting inspections there recently. Byron confirmed the London inspections in a statement to El Iberico (translated from Spanish):
“Byron confirms that several of our London restaurants were visited by representatives of the Interior Ministry earlier this week. The Interior Ministry recognizes that Byron, as an employer, meets the requirements of immigration law in their procedure for hiring workers. In Byron we are proud of the diversity in the staff of our restaurants built around people of all backgrounds. We have a long and close collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, to cooperate fully with them throughout the course of the investigations currently carried out and that will be in the future. ”
It is truly despicable that it seems that Byron were happy to pursue a policy of knowingly hiring undocumented migrant workers and when, we can assume, UKBA started breathing down their necks, were only too happy to hand employees over to the state and place them and their families directly in danger. This also raises the question of working conditions in Byron’s kitchens, as we know that undocumented workers are regularly subject to exploitation as they have no legal recourse to challenge illegal working conditions.
If Byron were happy to employ undocumented workers for years, it only seems right that when the Border Agency came knocking, Byron should have taken on responsibility for the legal consequences themselves. Questions must be asked, like were Byron offered immunity from prosecution if they lied to employees about training sessions to facilitate a more effective sneak raid? Passing all of the consequences of your company’s actions directly on to the heads of your low paid service workers is the lowest of the low as dodgy employment practices go.
There is now a campaign underway to #boycottbyron and a protest to take place in London on 1 August, though Byron have remained silent on social media despite the growing Twitter campaign. There are 4 Byron restaurants in Scotland, based in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. And side note, our old pals Brewdog are stocked at Byron Hamburgers, so if self-proclaimed ‘revolutionary’ companies want to put their money where their mouths are, pulling their products from these restaurants might be a start.
For those of us who aren’t ‘punk’ brewery owners, here is a handy guide to helpful things you can do if you see an immigration raid taking place.
EDIT: The Home Office have now confirmed that they had arrested 35 Byron employees from “Albania, Brazil, Nepal and Egypt”, and both the Home Office and Byron are claiming that every single one of these workers was employed on the basis of providing false ID and right to work documents. I’d question the likeliness that there could have been a co-ordinated fake document production taking in workers of disparate nationalities that managers in all of Byron’s restaurant locations happened to be fooled by, but we’ll leave it up to you to decide if this is a story concocted by Byron and the immigration authorities to cover up a dodgy deal for immunity from business fines or not… Either way: NO ONE IS ILLEGAL, DON’T ABUSE YOUR STAFF, DON’T ENTRAP PEOPLE.