The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) conducted a major raid on Britain's biggest retailer, Tesco, in July arresting 20 people from the Indian sub-continent who were found to have been working in breach of their visas.
At 3.00am Saturday 21 July UKBA enforcement officers conducted a raid at the Croydon facility of Tesco that arranges home deliveries for on-line shoppers. This was not a surprise for Tesco as it had been made in cooperation with Tesco management.
20 people who have been described as Bangladeshi and Indian were arrested as a result of this raid. These were were foreign students who are allowed by UK law to work up to 20 hours per week. As of yesterday according to the UKBA's statement to Balita Pinoy:
"We received information that some staff members were working in the UK illegally at Tesco.com on Factory Lane, Croydon. In response officers carried out an operation in full cooperation with the company shortly after 3am on Saturday 21 July 2012."
"20 individuals have been arrested and now face removal from the UK. The operation was part of an ongoing campaign to tackle visa abuse which has seen over 2,000 offenders removed since the beginning of May”.
"The employer now needs to provide evidence that it was carrying out the legally required checks to avoid a fine.”
Although there is no official confirmation yet, it seems 7 have already been deported.
Tesco's statement yesterday to Balita Pinoy was equally bland:
"In cooperation with Tesco, the UK Border Agency visited our dot com store in Croydon in July. As a result of this visit, a small number of staff were found to have breached the terms of their working visas.
We continue to cooperate fully with the UK Border Agency as they look into this issue. We take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and do not condone illegal working of any kind.
We have a comprehensive system for ensuring all the correct procedures are followed in this area which has been externally audited and generally works well. We have now taken additional steps to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again."
Pretty straightforward it would seem except for the silence from the UKBA and what appeared to be a throwaway line in the Financial Times' (FT) report on this story.
Writing in the FT, Andrea Felsted and Helen Warrell added:
"People familiar with the situation said the Tesco workers did have the right to work in the UK, but they were working more hours than their visas allowed them to.
They added that Tesco had continued to provide the staff with extra hours, in co-operation with the agency. The company had also been notified of the visit beforehand, they said."
A Tesco source confirmed this, stating that the UKBA had asked specifically that the worker's hours not be changed before the raid took place.
Normally the UKBA do not announce their raids in advance to employers for obvious reasons, they want to capture their targets, not find they have vanshed into thin air.
Also, the UKBA normally announce the results of such raids in the news section of their website; a raid which netted 20 offenders would be expected to be a major coup which they could trumpet. However, as of writing, there is still no mention on the news section of their website.
Advance warnings of raids, whilst rare, are not unknown. Such cooperation has been sought in the past where the facility being raided may prove a logistical problem, or where the facility is a major public building such as a university.
The raid on the Tesco site in Croydon is certainly one which would have proved a logistical problem because of its size and the multiple exits available. The site is a major part of Tesco's home delivery service, with around a hundred vans conducting deliveries, with additionally a huge number of "pickers" and warehouse staff to select the goods. this is obvious from the statement by Tesco that it was only a small number of staff arrested; Tesco's employ about 300,000 people.
The warehouse alone is over 19,000 square meters, and is in an industrial park just off the Purley Way.
As photos of the facility show, any raid would have problems in containment, as the wanted people would have numerous ways to escape, so the cooperation of Tesco is understandable.
Tesco's silence since the raid would be easily explained by the fact of embarrassment.
UKBA's silence does not make any sense, along with their request to Tesco to keep the targets of the raid on "their normal hours".