A Romanian gangmaster has been caught helping top restaurant chains including Loch Fyne avoid tax with cheap labour by claiming her workers are “self-employed”, The Daily Mirror reports.
Last month The Mirror revealed Loch Fyne was hiring Romanian chefs who can only work here if they are self-employed, saving their bosses money on holiday pay, sick pay and national insurance.
The Mirror has revealed that many of those chefs came from Huddersfield-based employment agency Sara Recruitment, run by 35-year-old Ioana Danciu (above).
It offered Romanian construction, engineering, healthcare and catering staff to firms having “difficulties recruiting serious, reliable, long-term staff”.
In one ad for Loch Fyne staff, Sara Recruitment wanted chefs who are “able to work unsupervised”.
Their responsibilities would include “running the kitchen on a day to day basis” when the head chef’s not there, “developing junior staff”, “supporting the management team” and showing “willingness to learn and be prepared to take more responsibility”.
It doesn’t sound like self-employment to lawyer Steve Cottingham of OH Parsons: “This looks just like an employee post and not a self-employed position. The needs to be present for most, or all the working day, together with the need to supervise staff are more likely to be hallmarks of direct employment rather than self-employment.”
Yet, at the end of 2010, Sara Recruitment was granted a licence from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which was set up after the Morecambe Bay cockle picking tragedy to protect food pickers and packers.
Within a month, Sara was re-inspected after “allegations of non-compliance” and the GLA revoked the licence last July.
In a letter to Danciu that obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the GLA said: “Evidence gathered from interviews with workers and clients indicates the workers Sara Recruitment supplies are not genuinely self-employed.”
On paper, Sara’s workers were given the right to send someone else to do their work – a sign of self-employment.
But both the workers and one of the companies using their services admitted this was a sham and that, in reality, they had to do the job in person.
Workers were provided with the tools for the job, including protective equipment, and one client admitted that “if they did not follow instructions then they would be let go”.
The GLA also found that, after rent was taken from their pay packets, workers earned below the minimum wage. Danciu underpaid four workers by £1,200 in case she was found “liable” for unpaid tax but the GLA found this was not a “sufficient” reason to withhold wages.
A month after Sara was told it faced losing its licence, Loch Fyne decided to stop using self-employed chefs, boss Liz Williams has told us.
Sara launched an appeal against the GLA’s decision but went into liquidation before Christmas.
To hold a licence, a gangmaster needs to score fewer than 30 black marks during a GLA inspection. After the second inspection, Sara scored 92. Source: Daily Mirror.
If you are one of the many Bulgarian or Romanian citizens working in the UK ‘without papers’, read ‘How Romanians and Bulgarians working illegally without Yellow Card or papers can legalise their status in the UK‘.
Employers are often unaware that even though they are EU members, when it comes to employment Bulgarian and Romanian citizens do not have the same rights as other Europeans, for instance from France, Germany, Poland, Slovakia or other A8 Accession countries.
When Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007 the UK government, like many other European governments, imposed limits on working the newest members of the EU. See: Free Movement of EU nationals explained.
Whilst they are free to move around Europe without a visa, they can only work in the UK as employed persons with special permission. This restriction was extended last year by the UK Immigration Minister Damian Green until January 2014.
Bulgarians and Romanians are allowed to set up a business, apply for a work permit, study or reside in the UK as a ‘self sufficient’ person, provided they can prove they have enough funds to support themselves.
However, being self employed or running a business, which is perfectly legal, is not the same thing as working (being EMPLOYED) as a chef or waiter on a so-called ‘self-employed’ basis, which in reality is illegal employment.
Joanna of Majestic College, which has helped many Bulgarian and Romanian students in the UK, has met many workers who want to legalise their stay in the UK because they are trapped in below minimum wage jobs with rogue employers. She said:
‘Working illegally leaves you open to exploitation as well as the risk of being caught by the UK Border Agency.’
Both worker and employer may get away with working on a ‘self-employed’ scheme, however, this will not help the Bulgarian or Romanian when it comes to applying for a residence Blue Card.
What can you do if you are trapped in illegal employment?
There are a number of options for legalising your stay in the UK, but the first thing to realise is that you you do have a choice.
Secondly, unlike most illegal workers, you have the advantage of being a member of the European Union, which means you have treaty rights in the UK, for instance the right to work and study.
Bulgarians and Romanians may freely travel to the UK to exercise their rights under Article 39 and apply for a Yellow Card registration card to work and study full time whilst studying for a vocational qualification, such as NVQ or QCF in Customer Service or Health and Social Care.
Importantly, this right can also apply to you, even if you are here working illegally or have broken the rules in the past.
Finally, these right can also apply to you if you have previously been refused yellow card.
If you need any immigration advice or help with Yellow or Blue Cards, Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa, ILR/Settlement, Citizenship, dependant visa or an appeal against a refusal please email:
Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.
For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org