The World of Currynomics

Posted on Analysis Aug 2008 - by Tandoori Magazine
The World of Currynomics

The British curry is facing a battle on which its future may very well depend upon. Bajloor Rashid, President of the Bangladeshi Caterers Association tells Tandoori of the hurdles in store.

The Bangladeshi Caterers Association (BCA) is the umbrella organisation of approximately 12,000 British-Bangladeshi curry outlets in the UK.

It was established in 1960 to represent the catering industry run by the Bangladeshi community in the UK. At present, the industry directly employs more than 90,000 people and another quarter million people are indirectly dependent upon it. It generates an estimated yearly turnover of £3.5 billion and organises various activities to promote Bangladeshi cuisine in the UK as well as in Europe.

British Bangladeshi restaurateurs historically relied on the traditional sources in Bangladesh for the recruitment of their kitchen staff. But with the passage of time, immigration laws have been tightened and employers were asked to employ their staff from within EU.


The staff shortage was so acute that at one point the UK government introduced a sector-based scheme to save the industry from imminent collapse. But then the Sector Based Scheme was stopped abruptly and since then the curry industry has been suffering from the shortage of skilled, dedicated and willing workforce.

BCA as the representative body of curry entrepreneurs took the matter to almost every level of policy makers including MPs and Ministers. They had a series of meetings with the then immigration Minister My Tony Mcnulty who at one point agreed to introduce a scheme in line with SBS that could mitigate the problems. But before he could make any concrete steps he left the ministry for other assignments and BCA had to start the matter all over again in order to make the new minister understand the gravity of the problem.

When it seemed that the Minister was convinced of the serious shortages affecting the British Bangladeshi catering industry there was a yet another major overhauling of UK immigration policy.

The new Point Based System part of the government’s new immigration law requires academic qualifications to work in restaurants under the “skilled migrant” schemes where `working experience and ethnic knowledge’ are not taken into consideration.


But for some unknown reason the Tier three from which the majority of the needs would be catered for was suspended without consultation and without any indication as to when or even if tier three would be re-instated. This doused BCA’s hope of any special scheme to address the serious issue of skilled and unskilled vacancies within the Bangladeshi curry industry and a growing urgency to make known the impact of the new policy ensued.

Whilst we at BCA respect the government’s new immigration policy, believing that it has been introduced in the national interest, we are unable to understand why Government can not find an initiative that will furnish us with the opportunity to fill our kitchen vacancies with appropriate staff and save the curry industry.

At the same time, while we were negotiating with the government to either re-open the Tier-3 or to include Curry Workers in the shortage occupation list of Tier-2 of the point based system, the raids in the restaurants in the name of searching illegal immigrants are making a fatal blow to our industry.

Finding no other alternative BCA organized a Static Demonstration at Trafalgar Square on 20April this year.

Thousands of curry leaders and workers not only from Bangladeshi community, but also from Chinese, Turkish, Indian and Pakistani communities participated in the demonstration with the slogan `Save the British Curry Industry’.  A good number of MPs expressed their solidarity with BCA’s standpoint and some of them even joined the demonstration at Trafalgar Square.


The successful demonstration drew huge media coverage and an EDM was brought in the House of Commons.

Following the success of the Rally to highlight the concerns BCA handed a petition to the Prime Minister’s office at Downing Street and raised concerns to the newly created Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). They met MAC officials several times and presented them with a professional Survey Report prepared by an independent third party, which categorically depicts the severe staff crisis in the curry industry with over 30,000 vacancies and an anticipated 20% of curry houses facing closure within the next twelve months.

Further action was needed and a petition was presented to officials at the office of the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street requesting that he re-considers the implications on the curry industry and:

  • Recognises the unique characteristic of ethnic catering, and to put the occupations in these businesses on the Occupations Shortage List
  • Stop all disruptive Border Immigration Agency (BIA) actionst
  • Recognises urgently the industry as an area of skill shortage and relax the rules accordingly to allow urgent recruitment
  • Recognise the unique language and authentic characteristics of ethnic catering.
  • Work with the ethnic catering communities and invest in training programmes, which would resolve long-term labour problems in the British ethnic catering businesses and provide employment opportunities for local people
  • Support the move to regularise undocumented workers
     

As a result of the petition, the BCA met with the Prime Minister Office Policy Unit Equality Political Advisor and presented the concerns and adverse impact on the Curry Houses and other ethnic catering communities arising from the recent immigration changes. The meeting discussed a number of issues, including:

 

  • the disproportionate use of force in UKBA’s conducting immigration raids on catering businesses
  • the threats to community safety and community cohesiveness caused by a the UKBA’s Stop Illegal Working Campaign;
  • the staff shortage in ethnic catering businesses
  • the lack of training opportunities and facilities appropriate for ethnic catering businesses to up-skill local workforce as labour source.

 

We at the BCAappreciate that the unemployment rate in Asian communities is higher than the national average and hope that the government will support us in our endeavours to create a workable solution. We are also looking to the future. We have put together a proposal that we feel both addresses the needs for up-skilling of the current permanent workforce as well as encouraging youngsters of all nationalities to consider a career in catering.

Our proposal to establish a London School of Curry that will provide the necessary training, qualifications and accreditations based not just on knowledge but also on skills will be a pioneer of currynomics. We hope government will continue to support our industry and agree on an interim solution.

BCA will continue in its efforts to support its members and work in the interests of the whole of the British Bangladeshi catering industry here in the UK. Bangladeshi curry houses have long been established as the backbone of the Bangladeshi community and one of the greatest success stories of British immigration of the last forty years.

The future of the industry is as important as its past.

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