Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECHONEWS to 80360, or email us »
South Essex businesses paying the cost of employing illegal labour
THE last two financial years have seen businesses across south Essex fined a total of more than £200,000 for employing illegal immigrant workers.
Figures obtained from the Home Office under the Freedom of Information Act show that 21 businesses have been handed civil penalties by the UK Border Agency for breaching employment law.
Since 2008, the Government has had the power to fine businesses up to £10,000 for each ille gal worker – without taking them to court or giving them a criminal record.
It would appear the fines are having a big impact on employers, as many of the firms that have suffered the financial penalties have since closed or changed hands.
It did not respond to the Echo’s request for comment.
The majority of the businesses hit have been independent restaurants and takeaways, but newsagents, convenience stores and even branches of well-known chains have been fined.
The owner of Westcliff’s Pizza Gogo said the ownership of the franchise changed hands in January 2012, five months after the Home Office fined the company, and the store now carries out all necessary checks on its employees.
Craig Renforth, Papa John’s UK head of operations, said: “Papa John’s takes its responsibility seriously in providing franchise owners with the right advice regarding employment legalities and advocates continued diligence with regards to ensuring the necessary checks are made when employing staff who require a visa.”
A Spar spokesman said it offers independently-owned stores that use its branding training on how to recruit staff.
Red Chilli, in High Street, Wickford, and Azuma restaurant, in Downham Road, Downham, were both handed £20,000 in fines last year – the highest single fines issued – and have both since closed.
The fourth highest single fine – £17,500 – was handed out to New Asia Spice, in Cranes Farm Road, Basildon, in November 2012.
Manager Malik Hassan said the store came under new ownership the month after the fine was issued and it has completely changed its staff.
New Asia Spice’s former owners, Basildon Restaurant Ltd, were named in a separate Home Office document, along with the Silver Lotus Thai restaurant, in High Street, Billericay, as having not paid their fines within 28 days.
Silver Lotus has since closed.
“We need to get tougher on people who abuse the system, be they UK employers or illegal migrant workers.”
David Burch, director of policy at the Essex Chamber of Commerce, said: “I hope all our members comply with the law, and it is relatively easy to do so.
“What I would say is some businesses may have been caught out due to people using fake documents to get a job.”
The Home Office says the figures it provided for the fines are provisional and it is possible some could have been cancelled later on.
THE Home Office says employing illegal immigrants has serious consequences for society.
Lionel Garriock, head of the Home Office Immigration Enforcement team in the East of England, said: “Our officers carry out regular operations throughout Essex to target unscrupulous employers who hire illegal workers.
“Illegal working is not a victimless crime as it cheats the tax-payer, undercuts honest employers and potentially exploits some of society’s most vulnerable people.
“It also deprives legitimate job hunters of employment opportunities.
“As these fines show, any employer involved in this sort of activity can expect to pay a heavy financial penalty.
“We are happy to work with businesses and advise what checks need to be carried out on staff. However, those who choose to break the law should expect a visit from our officers."
Comments are closed on this article.