Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Revenge of the ‘cockroaches’

 TWO BRANCHES of the Byron burger restaurant chain were forced to close last week after protesters released hundreds of live insects – including cockroaches and crickets – into the premises. This was in retaliation after the company organised a fake training day on 4th July that was a trap to catch members of staff who were working in London illegally.

The Home Office now requires all employers to act as police officers in monitoring workers in case they may be illegal immigrants. But the Byron group enthusiastically took on this role and organised the bogus training day for staff that was in reality a trap where immigration officers were waiting to question them and arrest and deport some.

These migrant workers are some of the lowest paid, most desperate and most vulnerable and most exploited workers in London. Restaurant and hotel chains pay them a pittance and depend on a regular supply of vulnerable workers who are too frightened to challenge the low wages and poor conditions of employment.

Many are asylum seekers who are awaiting a judgement on their right to stay in Britain. During that period they are not supposed to take on paid work but it is difficult for them to survive without it.

Workers from as many as 15 of Byron’s branches were brought to a secret location under the belief that they were undergoing training. Within minutes, immigration officers arrived with photographs and names of migrant staff members, predominantly from Latin America.

The fact that the officers already had names and photographs suggests strongly that they had already been colluding with managers.

One manager reportedly said: “We know what’s going on and all this was prepared.” This is not training.

The Byron group may have been pressured by the Home Office. It imposes an obligation on employers to check that all migrant staff have the correct documentation. The employer can be fined.

 According to a witness quoted in El Iberico, London's only Spanish language newspaper, the restaurant chain knows this all too well – when asked for an explanation, the manager who organised the fake training exercise reportedly said “the company would go bankrupt” if it had to pay a fine for every employee in the country without correct paperwork.

Byron is not the only employer that has collaborated with the Home Office in this way. Activists have described a witness account from a member of Deliveroo staff describing how police, immigration officers and DWP officers entered the office: Police were searching for drugs, immigration and passport control were looking for undocumented migrants and DWP were looking for people “illegally claiming benefits”.

As in the Byron case, officers came armed with staff photographs and names already, strongly suggesting collaboration with staff. In both cases, it is uncertain whether the workers were paid any monies owed to them by the company before they were deported. It can be assumed that neither corporation received their fine.

The retaliation action, releasing insects into two of the restaurants, was claimed by London Black Revs and the Malcom X Movement.

Last year when Theresa May, as Home Secretary, sent UK Borders Agency snatch squads onto the streets of south London to pick up people at random to check their immigration status, they were mobbed by the public and forced to retreat.

In a joint statement published on Facebook, London Black Revs and Malcolm X Movement said the direct action was in response to the chain’s “despicable actions in the past weeks having entrapped waiters, back of house staff and chefs in collaboration with UK Border Agency”.

They added: “Many thousands of live cockroaches, locusts and crickets [have been released] into these restaurants. We apologise to customers and staff for any irritation, however, we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment.”

One young protester said: “Katie Hopkins called them cockroaches in an article just a few months ago. We want to show these people what cockroaches really look like, and we’ll unleash them on places like this if they don’t change their ways.”

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