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Daily: Modern-day slavery pervasive in Nepalese restaurants

Several Nepalese restaurants in Finland systematically violate labour laws, finds an investigation by daily Helsingin Sanomat.

Ruoka-annos lautasella ravintolassa.
Image: AOP

Helsingin Sanomat found that many workers in Nepalese restaurants in Finland are trapped in their positions. The paper reports that workers were expected to put in 16-hour shifts with salaries far below legal minimums.

”Workers pay huge amounts to reach Finland and once they get here they live in miserable conditions and are overworked, and the victims are too afraid to speak out,” said special investigator Tuija Hietaniemi of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Officials have been slow to react, as things seemed to be in order—at least on the surface. Cooks may pull down a monthly salary of 1,800 euros—but some probing showed that was for 250-300 hours of work. Employees' salaries were meanwhile transferred into bank accounts controlled by restaurant owners.

With their paperwork in order, Timo Lappi, CEO of the Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa, said Nepalese restaurants have avoided officials’ radars.

Lappi said that while it’s impossible for customers to determine how restaurant workers are being treated, very cheap prices can be a tip-off that everything is not as it should be.

Labour trafficking

The national daily found that kitchen workers, recruited from Nepal, faced a life of indentured servitude once in Finland, where they had to pay owners up to 10,000 euros for being hired.

HS claimed that several Nepalese restaurant owners in Finland are related and will blackball workers who complain about conditions. This type of close knit network has deterred workers from reporting abuses.

Pia Marttila, a special advisor on human trafficking at Victim Support Finland (RIKU), told Yle that her organisation is working with over 100 people trafficked in the food services and cleaning industries.

”The scope of the problem is enormous, and extends beyond a few isolated cases of people sleeping in the back of restaurants,” Marttila explained, criticising lengthy investigation periods involving labour trafficking.

Marttila called for more police resources to monitor working conditions, as victims themselves rarely alert the authorities.

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