Restaurant faces £20,000 fine over two ‘illegal workers’
A Co Down restaurant is facing a fine of up to £20,000 for employing two workers without valid work visas.
Officers from the UK Border Agency raided the Fontana restaurant in Holywood on Thursday afternoon to question staff about their visas.
Two men were subsequently arrested following the raid — a 29-year-old New Zealander and a 27-year-old Argentinian. They are currently being detained and are to be removed from the UK.
Fontana’s owner, Colleen Bennett, said they had tried to make the workers legal.
She said: “We were seeing if we could get through the legal route of becoming a sponsor and extending the work visa.
“Unfortunately it didn’t happen and here we are now in the situation we’re in.”
The restaurant, located on High Street in the town, was issued with a civil penalty notice, but the owners could be fined £10,000 for each worker if they are unable to prove they conducted the correct checks prior to employing the two men.
Mike Golden, assistant director of the UK Border Agency in Northern Ireland, said the operation was the latest in a series with more planned for the future.
He said: “Illegal working has a serious impact on communities, taking jobs from those who are genuinely allowed to work.
“Businesses which operate outside the law should be warned that they will be found and they will be punished.”
DUP Assembly member for North Down Peter Weir said illegal workers were responsible for lost earnings in Northern Ireland’s economy.
“Clearly those who are employing illegal workers are causing a disservice to the economy.” He added that problem not only affected UK workers, but those within the EU who are allowed to work here without a visa.
“Not just local people, but just even those from outside the UK who are legitimate workers — this sort of thing then raises suspicions about them.
“Obviously the case will have to take its own merits but in general it’s definitely a problem.
“It’s not a common problem in Co Down, but irrespective of how widespread it is, it’s an issue we have to look at.”