In May of 2010, 37-year-old chef Jiang Zhaloin came to Sweden from China to work at a Gothenburg restaurant.
He left his own restaurant and two children behind to spend two years in Sweden, planning to return with more money than he could ever make in his home country.
He paid his Chinese employment agency 70,000 kronor ($10,500) to set up the job in Sweden and was promised he would soon have earned that money back.
But reality ended up being far removed from his initial expectations.
“I started at nine in the morning by cleaning the bathrooms,” Zhaloin told the hotel and restaurant union (HRF) magazine, Hotellrevyn.
“Then I did kitchen work all day and then I had to do the dishes until late at night. It was completely different, a lot tougher.”
With Zhaloin’s experience, the restaurant should have paid him 20,835 kronor a month, according to union standards.
Instead he worked 80 hours a week, for 14,000-15,000 kronor, 7,700 kronor of which he gave straight back to pay for the housing the restaurant had set up for him.
And while, 7,700 kronor a month would normally pay for a sizeable flat in a central Gothenburg, Zhaloin was only offered a bed in a cramped two room apartment that he shared with four other Chinese workers employed by the same restaurant.
“They’ve been brought here to do slave work. This is pure slavery,” the union’s ombudsman Mats Kjellberg told Hotellrevyn.
“They’ve been working 80 hours a week without overtime or other compensation.”
Kjellberg had been in contact with Zhaloin in May of 2011, when he showed up at the union official’s office to seek help.
He didn’t speak a word of Swedish, but with help from an interpreter the message got across.
“He wanted to know if his employer was allowed to hit him for being in the union,” Kjellberg told The Local.
“He wasn’t afraid of his employer anymore and he said he wanted to go back to China because it was better there than here in Sweden.”
Kjellberg explained how foreign workers are often made dependent on their employers since they don’t speak the language and get their housing through them.
“If they argue with their employer he can just tell them ‘well then I’ll fire you and kick you out from the flat’, and of course that deters many when you’re in a foreign country,” he said.
But Zhaloin had had enough, and was hoping to return home as quickly as possible.
Later in the summer he collapsed on the street in Gothenburg from exhaustion, and after a visit to the doctor he was put on sick leave due to stress related psoriasis.
Kjellberg now wants to see better regulations for such labour exchange programmes to prevent similar cases in the future.
“These Chinese agencies are in contact with similar agencies here in Gothenburg, and sometimes they buy and sell workers almost like cattle,” Kjellberg said.
“Labour migration is meant to allow for highly educated people to come and work here, but now they will fly in a dishwasher from China to work in Sweden. And the reason they’re doing that is wage dumping.”
The HRF union called Zhaloin’s employer to negotiations and demanded he be compensated for all of his overtime hours, sick leave benefits, and vacation allowance.
The union also helped him move out of the crammed apartment.
The employer has now agreed on the proposed terms, and Zhaloin will be compensated to the tune of 391,000 kronor, including back pay and compensation for his suffering.
The restaurant will also pay an additional 100,000 kronor in compensation to the union for violating labour agreements.
Zhaloin has now returned to China and will have received his compensation by October 15th.