Immigration rights activists are calling for a boycott of a British burger chain after workers were targeted in immigration raids at the restaurants last week, allegedly under the guise of staff meetings.
Workers at several branches of Byron Hamburgers in London were told to attend meetings on the morning of July 4, which management said were about new burger recipes or training on what temperature to cook burgers at, several employees told the Guardian.
“There were 20 of us there, all from Byron. At the beginning, I couldn’t believe what was happening. But then, when I realised they were going to deport us, I felt so bad,” one man, a former chef at one of the restaurants, told the Guardian under the condition of anonymity. “They were destroying everything I have done. I worked hard, I paid taxes and Byron did this to us. It is immoral. They were happy to employ me for years doing really hard work that no British person would do.”
Immigration officers appeared just as the meeting should have begun, staff told local media, and arrested several workers who were suspected to have provided false documents during the hiring process.
The company released a statement to reporters confirming that they had cooperated with immigrations officials but not addressing the allegation that they had used fake meetings to facilitate the raids:
We can confirm that several of Byron's London restaurants were visited by representatives of the Home Office.
These visits resulted in the removal of members of staff who are suspected by the Home Office of not having the right to work in the UK, and of possessing fraudulent personal and right to work documentation that is in breach of immigration and employment regulation.
We have co-operated fully and acted upon the Home Office's requests throughout the course of the investigations leading to this action, and will continue to do so.
Britain's Home Office told the BBC that 35 workers from Albania, Brazil, Nepal, and Egypt were arrested and that the operation was conducted with the company's cooperation, though the government agency denied that trainings had been set up to lure workers.
The union that covers hospitality workers like the employees of Byron Hamburgers, the Hotel Workers Branch, posted this message on Facebook, criticizing the focus on immigration rather than enforcement of other standards in the hospitality industry:
As news of the raids spread online, people took to Twitter to protest the company's actions with the hashtag #BoycottByron, saying that even though the company may have been following the letter of the law, they did wrong by hard-working employees in order to avoid a fine from immigration authorities:
#boycottbyron should have paid £4 million in fines but got away with lazy hiring by sacrificing minimum wage staff……assholes
— Vish (@MrVeesh) July 29, 2016
Employers who don't cooperate with immigration authorities and are found not to have conducted proper checks on immigration documents can face an "unlimited fine" and face up to five years in prison, according to U.K. laws.