Eatery forced Chinese chef into ‘slave labour’

A Chinese chef who collapsed from exhaustion on the streets of Gothenburg after being forced to work under 'slave-like' conditions has received a large indemnity following his ordeal.

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.

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”