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Indian restaurants asked to employ Europeans

Can East Europeans cook a decent Indian meal? That is the question many owners of Indian restaurants are asking.

business Updated: Jan 10, 2006 15:03 IST

Can East Europeans cook a decent Indian meal? That is the question many owners of Indian restaurants are asking after authorities asked them to recruit East Europeans rather than people from the Indian subcontinent.

Indian food is a passion in Britain with thousands of restaurants catering to the British palate hooked on to spicy Indian curries and chicken tikka masala. The Indian restaurant industry needs at least 20,000 workers a year.

But the Indian dish will soon have an East European element.

After several East European countries joined the European Union, their nationals have the right to work in Britain. Many workers from these countries have entered the labour market in Britan- legal as well as illegal.

The result is that owners of Indian and Chinese restaurants have been told to recruit from the East European labour workforce instead of from the Indian subcontinent.

Official sources said that East Europeans would now need to be given preference in the labour market after their countries joined the EU.

After thousands of East Europeans joined the British labour market, reports say that there has been an upsurge in the number of kebab shops as most of them come from what are considered 'traditional meat-skewering nations'.

Ministers have reportedly told owners of Indian and Chinese restaurants that English should be spoken in kitchens so that vacancies can be filled by East Europeans. Representatives of Chinese restaurants have already lobbied with MPs to save the industry.

Under the new Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, expected to be debated in the House of Lords soon, employers hiring illegal foreign nationals face a two-year jail term and a fine.

Britain's 10,000 Chinese takeaways and 5,000 restaurants are mainly staffed by asylum-seekers, students and illegal immigrants, according to The Times. Similar is the situation in Indian restaurants.

The problem is compounded for families owning Indian restaurants because most of them came to Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, but now their children prefer to enter the service or another industry rather than continue with the family business.

Thomas Chan, who chairs the Chinese Takeaway Association, said: "The head chef will find it difficult to communicate with these East Europeans. If there is no mutually understood language, how are they going to give instructions?

"It's not just a pinch of salt here and there. It's the culture."

Ashraf Uddin, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Caterers' Association, told The Times that the government had told them to take East Europeans. "Unless they know our culture, our language, our way of working, it's a complete mess," he said.

But Taflan Dikec, president of the National Association of Kebab Shops, said East Europeans would have no problem preparing Indian or Chinese dishes.

"They are capable, if the Chinese and Indians gave them an opportunity. They have this myth that Chinese food can only be cooked by a Chinese or Indian food by an Indian."

The Home Office said in a statement: "Allowing the sector to continue to rely on low-skilled labour from outside Britain or EU would be self-perpetuating if it means the sector continues to be reliant on workers with particular language skills."

First Published: Jan 10, 2006 15:03 IST