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Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, could face fines after the UK Border Agency found staff at a facility in Croydon were working longer hours than their visas allowed.
A so-called “dot.com only” store, which fulfils online grocery orders, was subjected to a 3am raid by the agency in July.
“As a result of this visit, a small number of staff were found to have breached the terms of their working visas,” the company said.
It would not say whether it faced any financial penalties as the investigation was still in progress.
“We continue to co-operate 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,” Tesco said in a statement released on Monday.
The Border Agency confirmed that 20 people have been arrested and face deportation.
“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”, a spokesman said. “The employer now needs to provide evidence that it was carrying out the legally required checks to avoid a fine.”
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.
Reports have suggested that the workers were students, mainly from Bangladesh and India. Seven of the 20 arrested have now been deported.
“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,” Tesco said.
Earlier this year, Tesco became embroiled in a dispute over a government work experience scheme.