Curry workers turn up heat for better conditions

A new union is striving to win fairer job rights for some of the UK's 100,000 Bangladeshi-British chefs

Muhammad Salim Uddin stands over a piping hot gas stove and throws a handful of sliced chicken breast into a pan.

With a deft flick of his wrist, the oil catches the lip of the pan and ignites into a two-foot wall of flame. Another one of Brick Lane's famous curries makes its way out of the kitchen.

Mr Uddin is comparatively fortunate. His boss pays him a decent wage and holiday entitlement is written into his contract. But a considerable number of the estimated 100,000 Bangladeshi Britons working in the curry trade often find themselves exploited by unscrupulous owners who happily take advantage of their ignorance of the minimums to which they are entitled.

In between dishes Mr Uddin describes the working conditions that many of his fellow cooks labour under. "I had a friend who worked for six years straight and never took a holiday," he says. "He was always working, never had time off. He didn't realise he was entitled to it. He knew nothing about sick leave. He just came into work all the time."

But a small but growing band of restaurant workers and community leaders are hoping to change that, with the creation of a new union aimed at the curry trade and other industries where Bangladeshi Britons are prominent.

The Bangladeshi Workers Union, quietly launched a week ago, already has 500 members and is in discussions with Unite and the GMB to become affiliate members. Azmal Hussain, a Brick Lane restaurant owner who helped set up the union (and Mr Uddin's boss) hopes a collective bargaining unit will help restaurant staff to win fairer working conditions.

"Bangladesh itself has a strong trade union movement but for some reason Bangladeshis in Britain never really got involved in creating their own version," he says, walking through Prithi, one of two restaurants he owns. "There are so many workers that are completely unaware of their rights. It's time we treated them as humans, not as commodities."

Mr Hussain is something of a con- troversial character in Brick Lane, the beating heart of East London's 40,000-strong Bangladeshi community. He was once a prominent financier with George Galloway's now defunct Respect party, and is rarely shy about speaking his mind. Five years ago he blew the lid on a visa scamin which migrants were tricked into paying thousands of pounds for jobs that didn't exist after a member of his family members fell victim to the scheme.

"I'm not very popular among some restaurant owners," he admits, grinning. "Some of them will not be happy about a union, they will want to carry on paying people small wages. But others will know we are trying to do a good thing." Although restaurant owners have been reluctant to get involved, factory owners and corner shops have been receptive.

The new union has also received support from local Labour politicians, once viewed by Mr Hussain as his political enemies. Shiria Khatun, a councillor, and Murad Qureshi, a Greater London Assembly member, have thrown their weight behind the Bangladeshi Workers Union while the Labour peer Lord Glasman is leading the negotiations with Unite and the GMB.

"It's something I think we should all support," says Mr Qureshi. "Brick Lane gets the glitz and attention but working conditions could be improved and this is a means of doing that."

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
film
Sport
football
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker