50,000 jobs up for grabs in UK curry industry – Initiatives from Bangladesh government needed

By Abu Masum

Pasha Khondokar, the newly elected President of BCA, M. A. Munim, the newly elected General Secretary of BCA and Bajloor Rashid, MBE, (former President, BCA)

London, UK, Jan 24, 2013 (Washington Bangla Radio) British Bangladeshi owns more than eighty percent of the 4.1 billion pound valued UK curry industry. It satisfies with its various foods the appetite of the royal family as well as the mass. Back in 1960, these entrepreneurs, with their 12,000 restaurants, established the powerful organization called Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA). Besides upholding the different interests of the people related to this industry, BCA played active role for Bangladesh in times of disaster like flood and cyclone like SIDR and assisted in various ways to make the Vision Bangladesh, a project of BRAC, effective. Recently, BCA held its Annual Award Ceremony and Gala Dinner at a five star hotel in Central London with presence of powerful ministers and MPs from the opposition. In an exclusive interview, with BRIT-BANGLA, Pasha Khondokar, the newly elected President of BCA, M. A. Munim, the newly elected General Secretary of BCA and Bajloor Rashid, MBE, (former President, BCA) has spoken on problems and potential of the curry industry prevailing in the UK.

In a recent interview, MA Munim said, ‘this industry has been established by our forefathers and lately it has achieved a tremendous growth. It is our duty to nurture it for further growth. This industry has started its journey during the late fifties and now over time, the business has grown in size and volume to be an inseparable part of the UK national economy. Though we are experiencing a tough time due to the worldwide economic recess, but yet, not only that we are catering career and job opportunities for over a hundred thousand people who are directly employed in the industry, we became a part of the existing British Culture.’ ‘We have changed the food habit as ‘curry’ has become the national dish of the UK from fish and chips and this has been possible for the long-term campaign of BCA’, said Bajloor Rashid, MBE, who got prestigious BCA Award-2012 on lifetime services to the Curry Industry and lifetime services to the British Bangladeshi Community. One of his most successful and effective initiative to save the ailing curry industry was organizing rallies in 2007, 2008. 2009 etc. at Trafalgar Square, London, which was attended by thousands of workers from curry industry, aficionados of Bengali cuisine, general people from all walks of life.

MA Munim also said that, on an average about 2.5 million people in the UK regularly dines at these restaurants. Brick lane, the Bangali community in Britain, was nominated by the government to be the official curry capital, during the recently held World Olympic. One Bangali enterprise won the contact of supplying ‘hallal’ food for the Olympic village.

In relation to the Bangladeshi Govt.’s role MA Munim remarked that, ‘we are going through hard times regarding the immigration limitations. But we are having dialogues with the government to sort a way out from this problem. We expect the government to come up with a way out to our existing problems. To ensure smooth growth, it is imperative for the business to enjoy VAT reduction as well as relaxation in the immigration laws is very urgent. I do not know if there is any other industry as huge as this curry industry in UK really exists in the world which is controlled solely by the Bangladeshis.’ In this context, Pasha Khondokar said, ‘We are discussing the matter with the government high ups for the last few years to make them understand about the untapped potential of employment opportunities in Britain but it is unfortunate that few initiatives have been taken from the government end for the exploiting of this potential. Talk between Bangladeshi high officials and BCA leaders regarding huge export potential has been going on for quite a while. But I have not observed proper initiatives taken from the end of Bangladesh government for utilizing this potential. Pasha Khondokar also remarked that, United Kingdom (UK) curry industry requires 50,000 skilled workforces in Bangladeshi-owned restaurants for chefs and kitchen staffs and Bangladesh could easily take the opportunity by setting up curry training institutes. Citing a survey conducted by the BCA, Bajloor Rashid, MBE, in this regard said, that each restaurant sees minimum 30% less business every year as the restaurants are being run with shortage of quality chefs and managers. Asked about reasons behind the shortage of staffs, he said post of cooks and kitchen staffs have remained vacant as a good number of kitchen staff went on retirement and some others on the way to retire in the UK curry industry.

Bajloor Rashid, MBE, the most active person on this particular industry in UK and in recognition for his monumental contribution, has been awarded with the prestigious MBE Knighthood said on this regard that, India has over 200 training institutes that are producing skilled manpower as per the British requirements and the BCA sometimes hire skilled workforce from India paying high salaries. Some restaurants have already been sold and some others were closed, he said apprehending that Bangladeshis may lose the control over the gigantic curry industry if it failed to create skilled manpower fulfilling UK requirements. Pasha Khondokar also remarked on this issue saying, the government may take necessary steps to set up training institute in partnership with BCA to serve the purpose of BCA, which represents 12,000 Bangladeshi restaurants employing over 100,000 people directly in Britain. There can be a state-level bilateral agreement between UK and Bangladesh to create skilled chefs for the UK's curry industry, adding the BCA is ready to cooperate if Bangladesh government takes initiative to do so. Bajloor Rashid, MBE, said the BCA has already taken a three-year project to set up a cuisine training institute dubbed ‘London School of Curry’ with funding from Britain but it will meet hardly few hundreds of skilled stuffs. ‘The BCA plans to establish training institute in a bigger scale to meet the demand for jobs in UK curry industry.’

Pasha Khondokar also said that, ‘even the rice, spices and edible oil producers of Bangladesh are also staying far from utilizing the market. Depending on our curry industry, various Indian establishments are exploiting this opportunity and enjoying a monopoly in this sector while we are standing helpless’. Regarding the recently held BCA Gala Dinner and Award Ceremony, he said, ‘this had been a grand show. All the restaurants look forward to this event throughout the year. Mainstream political and cultural celebrities attended the program. This year, we have awarded 11 curry restaurants besides 9 talented chefs of new generation. More than 20 ministers and MPs attended the event and this gave us an opportunity to say our demands about importing skill manpower from Bangladesh and asked them to give more concern for the development of this 4.1 billion pound curry industry.’