Original article translated from El Ibérico by Marcela of Latinxs:
Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Unimaginable situations in real life, can lead to shattered dreams and broken families, all due to the interests of a few to fatten their pockets. Something like this was experienced last July 4th in the hamburger chain Byron.
One of the workers of this company wanted to tell us what happened with the sole purpose of exposing the occurrence of this type of situations, that usually do not transcend public opinion. Out of respect for his privacy, because today they still work for Byron Hamburgers, the anonymity of the person interviewed will be maintained.
It was 9:30 in the morning, the staff were at one of the chain’s restaurants, following a call a few days earlier to attend a training. After only five minutes, two immigration policemen arrived and began to call some of the people present, into a separate room.
“They took some papers out where I could see some pictures and they started reading names. On their backs it said immigration police. They started calling one by one. In my restaurant they called six people, although two of them were not there at that time”, explains our witness. The events happened in at least 15 restaurants of the chain in London.
After minutes of uncertainty and unrest, the person in charge, who had in theory come to conduct a training for the staff, came clean: “I’ll be honest with you. We know what’s going on and this was all prepared. This is not a training. It is because we know we have people working illegally so we called the police.”
Byron hamburgers has a total of 56 restaurants across the UK, the vast majority of them based in the British capital. “I’d bet my life on it, there are at least 100 illegal people working in the company only in London. The exact number can only be known by the police and the chain itself, “says the Byron worker.
Although official data has not been released, our witness tells us that tens of people were deported, most of them from Latin America: “The raid took place, to my knowledge, in 15 Byron Hamburgers restaurants, all at the same time. Colleagues are saying 50 employees have been deported and another 150 have been able to evade controls and are currently in hiding”.
People who are in the UK in an irregular situation are playing it daily, and are aware that a police raid of this kind can happen at any time. Our protagonist, who today has their documents in order in the country, relates how little tact the bosses have with people without papers: “I myself have worked in Spain in this situation and I know we were gambling it. We run the risk that in the street or at home they can catch us.”
“You can have five, ten people working irregularly in your company without you realising it, but not 200. There are people who had worked four years in Byron. They know it and even so they call the police and sell them out”, says this Byron employee with tears in their eyes.
The deportations took place that same evening on the July 4
In solidarity with the affected colleagues, the workers decided not to work on the day the events occurred. “That same night of July 4 they were deported to their countries with what they had on them. The bosses know the situation of these people. We work hard and say nothing. If we have to do 60 hours a week, we keep quiet and do it. People at the top of the company know this and that’s why they hire these people, “the witness argues.
The employee states he has never seen anything like this in the four years he has been working for Byron Hamburgers: “People are really upset and scared about this situation. In the years that I have been in this company I have never seen anything like this. I don’t know if this is a normal procedure. After what happened, the witness tried to ask for an explanation to the manager about why they betrayed the employees that had been working with them for years. The answer was that, if they had to pay a fine for each person in an irregular situation, the company would go bankrupt.
The day after the police raid, a human resources employee went to the restaurant to speak to the staff. The objective was to hire new staff to substitute the deported and that everything goes back to normal ASAP.
Response from Byron Hamburgers
After hearing the version of the facts stated by this staff member, we got in touch with the company so they could explain what happened from their point of view. Byron Burgers referred us to an e-mail address where to send our questions. The answer was this brief press release that revealed very little information (basically nothing) of the police intervention that was held in the burger chain:
“Byron confirm that several of our restaurants in London were visited by representatives of the Home Office early this week. The Home Office recognises that Byron, as an employer, meets the requirements of the immigration law in its procedure to employ staff. At Byron we are proud of the diversity that exists in the staff of our restaurants, built around people of all origins. We have a long and tight relationship of collaboration with the Home Office, cooperating fully with them throughout the course of the investigations that they are currently carrying out and that the will carry out in the future”.