National service broadcaster DR reported on Sunday that after coming to Denmark to work as a chef, 34-year-old Chinese national Huashan Hong was not given a day off for six months.
He was also paid well under the Danish minimum wage and forced to sleep in a restaurant storage room, the broadcaster writes.
The owner of the restaurant, which is located in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district, told Hong “every month that he would find a place (for me to live), but it never happened,” the chef, who no longer works for the restaurant, told DR.
He was told that he would be provided with a work permit when he first came to Denmark in 2018, but was instead forced to work illegally as a chef and cleaner for up to 14 hours daily, according to the report.
Meanwhile, he slept in a storage room in back of the restaurant and was paid around 30 kroner per hour.
The story has prompted discussion of exploitation of Chinese workers in Denmark’s restaurant industry and criticism of Danish laws that enable this.
A work visa law for non-EU nationals working in Denmark, known as the pay limit scheme (beløbsordningen in Danish), has come into particular focus, notably in employee union publication Fagbladet 3F, which collaborated with DR on the story.
The provision enables companies to hire employees who are nationals of non-EU countries, provided they are paid a minimum of 417,793 kroner per year (roughly 35,500 kroner per month).
It is this system which is used to apply for working residency permits for Chinese chefs, but they do not receive pay stipulated by the scheme, according to the reports.
The Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (Styrelsen for International Rekruttering og Integration, SIRI) raised concern over potential exploitation of Chinese chefs as long ago as 2015, Fagbladet 3F writes.
“In most [investigated] restaurants, assessment suggested breaches of regulations with employment contracts, including salaries, duties and job titles,” states an internal memo sent by SIRI to the immigration ministry in 2017, the media reports.
As such, SIRI has long been aware of abuse the pay limit work visa system by restaurants hiring Chinese chefs but the issue has not been addressed.
SIRI has declined to comment to Fagbladet 3F regarding the story.
The Socialist People’s Party (SF), a parliamentary ally to the government, on Monday demanded investigations into the issue.
The party called for a focus group to visit restaurants with Chinese chefs in order to check working conditions.
“I think that the minister for employment [Peter Hummelgaard, ed.] should immediately set down a task force consisting of police, workplace inspectors and tax authorities,” the party’s spokesperson for employment Karsten Hønge told Ritzau.
“And (the task force) should visit all of the places where work permits have been granted under the pay limit scheme,” Hønge said.
“I hope that a Social Democratic government will see the seriousness of this. We cannot accept this brutalization at Danish workplaces,” he added.
Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye said that the conditions described in the DR and Fagbladet 3F reports were not acceptable.
“This is serious social dumping and we must make sure we weed it out,” Tesfaye told DR.
“There must be an awful lot of highly-paid Chinese chefs, or else something is not right here,” the minister added in regard to the used of the pay limit scheme for work visas.
“This is also I have taken the initiative to give (immigration) authorities the muscle to work with the tax authorities to bring these workplaces into line when we suspect something is wrong,” the minister also said.