September 6, 2022 5.00 pm This story is over 21 months old

Indian restaurant owner blames COVID “desperation” for hiring illegal workers

He failed to keep his alcohol licence

An Indian restaurant owner in Holbeach has admitted employing illegal workers, but said he only did so because he was desperate for staff after the COVID pandemic.

Siddique Faud Rahman, who runs the Chameli Indian Tandoori restaurant on St John’s Street, denied that he had been involved in “modern day slavery” when he appeared before South Holland District Council’s licensing committee on Tuesday.

It followed an investigation in April which found that of the eight workers present, five were working without the correct permissions.

One worker had previously been found during a raid of Tulip Tandoori, in Spalding, in 2014.

Officers in April also raised concerns about the property being used as a House in Multiple Occupancy and fire safety.

Mr Rahman, the restaurant’s Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS),  told councillors: “I’m going to put my hands up, yes, we employed illegal workers.”

However, he said because of the COVID lockdown his business had struggled to pay overheads.

He said that after the furlough scheme a number of his workers had not returned.

“I was desperate to reopen and so I employed illegal workers, I had to get some staff working, or I would have to close my business down,” he said.

However, he added: “The workers were paid above minimum wage, plus accommodation plus food out of my own pocket… there was no modern day slavery, so please don’t make me out to be a bad person. They were loved and cared for as my own family.”

He told the councillors his business had backed the Marcus Rashford’s campaign during the lockdown, providing food and care packages, carrying out raffles and donating to charity.

“We are a big part of our community and if the licence is taken away from us then the community will miss us,” he said.

Saddique Faud Rahmann (far left) appeared before South Holland District Council Licensing Committee. | Photo: Daniel Jaines

He said he had attempted to hire legal workers, including agency staff from Eastern Europe, however, he said his chefs required a “certain skillset” to cook the food right and that there had been language barriers.

He added that with rising energy bills, the alcohol side of the business was basically keeping the business afloat.

“Yes I employed illegal workers, but if this license is revoked then we will probably have to close down the business because we cannot survive,” he said.

Mr Rahman’s father opened the restaurant in 1989 and “worked blood, sweat and tears to open it”.

“It would be heart-breaking, it would be soul destroying for my dad to see,” he added.

He also denied he or his staff had been abusive to a licensing officer, however, the officer said the situation had felt “hostile” when she was trying to erect licensing signage.

Lincolnshire Police, however, said they had “no faith” in the business.

Sergeant Lee Cotton told the committee: “I appreciate the difficulties with the furlough scheme, but responsible businesses do not employ illegal workers, responsible businesses take the necessary steps to employ legal workers.”

Revoking the licence, the committee said that the “calculated risk” taken by the business meant they “could not be satisfied the premises would never resort to employing illegal workers again if it faced difficult conditions.”

“The panel is not without sympathy to the challenges that numerous businesses have faced arising out of the pandemic, however, it cannot condone a deliberate decision to flout the law,” they said in a statement.

Committee Chairman Jack Tyrell told the business owner: “I have three business, I had to go through the same things you did. I can’t afford to employ people… but I didn’t do what you did.”

Councillor Paul Redgate said: “You keep saying you had no choice, everyone has a choice, you made the decision not to employ legal workers.

“We have numerous DPS’ in the area. I would expect better from a DPS around the licensing objectives.

“All I’m hearing at the moment is excuses, I’m not hearing any valid reasons why this decision was made.”