‘The response has been unbelievable’ – Rashad Cassim
When Australia went into lockdown following the rapid spread of the pandemic, much like most businesses the world over, Australian business owners were faced with the unfortunate reality of having to shut down their operations and forego any projected profits for quite some time.
However, the Australian Government has since offered a “JobKeeper” safety net which provides employees access to a grant which allows them to keep their salaries during these difficult times, which then elevates the stresses of the employers in maintaining a staff without any profits to distribute.
The issue remained, however, for any employers who had hired immigrants, those who were yet to become citizens, such as Rashad Cassim, a Sri Lankan native chef working at the “The Stag Public House”.
Oliver Brown, Cassim’s employer, and owner of Big Easy Group venues Nola, Anchovy Bandit, Yiasou George, and The Stag Public House, developed a “Curry Night” concept to make up for the lack of government support; providing some relief to the valued migrant worker.
We reached out to Cassim about the struggles of immigrant workers in Australia and how he has dealt with the unfortunate and unexpected circumstances of having your livelihood questioned due to the pandemic.
Q: What’s your story in Australia and working with ‘The Stag Public House’?
A: I came to Australia in 2016 on a student visa to study cookery/hospitality. I worked in a few restaurants and pubs while I was studying in Melbourne. Then in early-2019 I moved to Adelaide. When I first moved to Adelaide, finding a job was somewhat difficult. However, I found The Stag Public House and started working in July 2019. I studied a six-month professional cookery course at SLITHM (Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management) and then started working as a chef at Waters Edge Sri Lanka and then at Off The Hook seafood restaurant for a short period before I came to Australia.
Q: As an immigrant worker, you are exempt from the Australian Government’s JobKeeper safety net; were there any other alternatives made available to you and your similarly affected colleagues?
A: One other colleague of mine and a lot of friends who are working in hospitality were adversely affected by this exclusion. I found out about this in March when Scott Morrison (Prime Minister of Australia) made an announcement to the public. The alternative was to find any kind of job that would allow me to have an income until everything went back to normal. I had applied for so many jobs that involved takeaway food. If I didn’t get any help it would’ve been a struggle; however I’m thankful for having savings which helped me get through the initially set lockdown period of six months.
Q: With the introduction of the Curry Night, you have been given the opportunity to not only garner an income but also help out fellow colleagues, showcase your skills, and share your history. What does this decision of the management of The Stag Public House mean to you?
A: It was an amazing opportunity; I am really grateful to Oliver Brown (Owner of The Stag Public House) for calling me up and telling me about the concept that he had and how it could help me showcase my skills while getting an income; with that, potentially helping out colleagues of mine who are in a similar situation.
As for the idea, one day when I was working and it was quiet I decided to make chicken curry with rice as a staff meal. Everyone, including Oliver, loved the curry and from that point on it was in his mind I believe.
Q: You are being offered the full proceeds of the Curry Night – this seems exceedingly generous of your employer. Can you share a little about your experience working with such a management and their response to Covid 19 and workers such as you who were affected adversely by it?
A: The management team really cares about their employees and has done whatever they can to help out all the employees, including myself. They were constantly contacting me to see how I was doing and if I may need any financial aid soon after the shutdown. They are one of the best management teams I have worked under.
Q: What has the response been to this idea of introducing authentic Sri Lankan cuisine in the menu and the food that you have been serving?
A: The response has been unbelievable. The first night The Stag announced Curry Night, the phones were ringing off the hook with people trying to make pre-orders in order to contribute to the cause. It was overwhelming and certainly unexpected. The people of Adelaide are the best; they provided me with a lot of support and everyone who purchased the food was very happy.
Q: Can you share with us the average experience of the immigrant worker in Australia and how it has been in comparison to your own personal trials that you went through?
A: It’s been a positive experience. I was able to learn a lot about the different standards and practices that another country may follow when preparing food. I learnt that it’s not just about the work I do or the experiences I gain that is important, it’s also the people who I work with that makes a big difference in the workplace. If you are a hard worker with a can-do attitude, respect can be gained easily.
My family has been very supportive and they understand my situation. I believe that I could stay in Australia and get through this hard time so therefore, my family understands this and does not expect me to go back until I have achieved my goals here in Australia.