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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Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question.