Foreign student workers found at scandal-hit sushi chain Tokyo City

Take note – story published 5 years ago

The payment of so-called 'envelope wages' to avoid labor taxes is not the only unsavory dish on the menu scandal-hit sushi chain Tokyo City, the LTV investigative show Forbidden Methods has discovered.

Having failed to find local labor for the small wages and unattractive positions on offer conditions such wages and terms, it has again played fast and loose with the law by employing student labor from countries including Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and India, the show reported October 2.

For several months, an undercover journalist worked as a dishwasher in a Tokyo City restaurant, so she could find out how she would be paid and what the working conditions were like at the restaurant which is a popular hangout for trendy types in Riga.

But her attention was also attracted by the many foreigners who cooked sushi and did other work in the kitchen. They did not act as waiting staff because they did not know how to speak Latvian. 

It turned out that many were young people from Uzbekistan, with some also from Bangladesh and India. At the Barona Street branch where the journalist worked about 15 such people were employed, with anecdotal evidence suggesting more were used elsewhere. At the Lubana Street base where Tokyo City prepares products for its restaurant cahin, as well as orders for customers at home, around a third of the staff were believed to be third-country nationals.

However, Latvia has fairly restrictive laws governing the use of third-country nationals. If an entrepreneur wants to hire a third-country worker, first of all it must be proved that no local person has been registered as suitable for the particular vacancy, and secondly, foreigners must be paid at least the average salary in Latvia, so as not to undercut the local labor market. 

But one of the workers questioned by the undercover reporter revealed that he was paid just 2 euros per hour while the Latvian dishwasher herself earned 2.50 euros. Additionally, in official records workers' statutory hours could not exceed 80 per week, but in reality they worked a lot more.

Another person interviewed admitted that he was also studying while working in Latvia and intended to return to his homeland after his studies ended; a Bangladeshi worker, on the other hand, was hoping to find a wife here and then go on to Denmark.

"I am a third-country national, so I can only work legally for 80 hours. The 80-hour payment is paid to my account, and the rest of the money is paid to me in cash," he said.

The law explicitly prohibits such actions. In addition, foreign students may not work more than 20 hours a month.

Yet despite this, Mārīte Noriņa, head of the Labor Rights Division of the State Labor Inspectorate, said that no unreasonable employment of third-country nationals had been uncovered during check-ups. In turn, the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA), which issues residence permits, does not control whether and how many hours the recipients of permits work. 

The show also suggested that while large numbers of perfectly legitimate students from third countries come to study in Latvia, it is sometimes the case that they disappear from their educational establishments and end up in a legal and financial limbo, working hard but keeping as low a profile as possible and running an increasing risk of exploitation. 

You can watch the whole show below - many of the exchanges between the journalist and he co-workers are in English.

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