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Feeling exploited

Maneesita Jaidee and Wilaiwan Donkeawprai have suitcases and passports ready in the bedsit they share on Vei 222. Donkeawprai is returning to Thailand this week and Jaidee is scheduled to later this month. FOTO: Line Nagell Ylvisåker

Feeling exploited

Two cafe workers claim they're working ten hours a day without pay at Taste of Thai. Now they want to prevent the same thing from happening to others.



"It is painful that Thais can do this against other Thais. They do not respect us," Maneesita Jaidee said tearfully.

She discussed her situation with Svalbardposten last Friday. She works at Taste of Thai, but claims she has not been paid since she started Aug. 4.

Found job on Facebook

Taste of Thai is a restaurant that opened in Lompensenteret in 2012. Rung-Arun Sianglam, a native of Thailand, is general manager of the company and her husband Wiggo Lund is the chairman.

Jaidee saw a job opening at Taste of Thai on a Facebook page for Thai cooks looking for jobs around the world. She came from the tourist resort of Koh Kood in east Thailand. She worked there at a guesthouse as a cook, waiter and housekeeper.

"One day there was a post that there was need for a Thai chef in Norway," Jaidee said in fluent English. "The salary was 10,000 kroner a month. For us Thais, that is a lot of money, so I applied and got the job."

She also is supposed to receive 1,200 kroner per month in food allowance. In addition to her salary, she lives free in a bedsit on Vei 222, which she shares with colleague Wilaiwan Donkeawprai.

Long days

Jaidee said they work Monday through Saturday 9:50 a.m. until 8:30 or 9 p.m.

The conditions are basically good compared to Thailand, but I did not know we were going to work ten hours a day, six days at a time without getting breaks," she said. "I think we are getting just a little over 30 kroner per hour."

She said she has received little information from her boss about wages and working conditions.

"Last Saturday was the first time I talked to her about wages," Jaidee said. "We were told that she would cancel our Norwegian ID number and not open a bank account for us here, but transfer our salaries to a Thai account."

Donkeawprai was told the following week she had to return to Thailand this month because she was not qualified for the job. She came to Longyearbyen on Sept. 2 and was supposed to have the job for at least three months. Jaidee was told at the same time she had to go back in December, then her departure was accelerated to Sept. 28.

"I am disappointed," she said. "I do not know when I will receive a salary or how much."

Tough job market

The Thai native said she approached the newspaper to prevent others to be treated like them.

"My boss has to my knowledge done the same thing to others," Jaidee said. "Some have had to borrow money to cover the expenses to get here. It is important that this does not happen to someone else."

What are her plans when she returns to Thailand?

"Finding a new job. But the economy of Thailand is bad, so...," Jaidee said, letting the rest of the answer hang in the air.

Did not understand the contract

Jaidee has the paperwork she needed to apply for a visa to Norway. One document is a standard employment contract written in Norwegian and signed by Wiggo Lund.

It states Jaidee is employed as apprentice cafe employee with cooking, cleaning and tidying as the main focus. The trainee period lasts for three months. Working hours are set at 40 hours a week, or about 8 hours a day. It also states she gets a 30-minute break and will be paid 17,500 kroner a month. In addition, she will be paid an extra 19 kroner an hour for nights and weekends.

All this was new to Jaidee when Svalbardposten read the contract to her, since she cannot speak or read Norwegian. She said she thought she had a job as a chef. In addition, she said she is working longer hours without the breaks the contract states she is entitled to.

"I've been told that I get 10,000 kroner after taxes and housing are paid," she said. "I think this employment contract was written so that I would get my visa approved."

Misses her son

Not being paid has put the two workers in a difficult situation, Jaidee said.

"We are so lucky that we live with others who help us," she said. "They have barely enough money to take care of themselves, but they still give us food."

She said Thais in Longyearbyen she has spoken to say life is better here than in their home country.

"Some say they get 120 kroner an hour," she said. "Then they have enough to live, eat and to send money home."

She said she still thinks some are getting less pay than they should.

"I've heard of others who are getting 75 kroner an hour," she said.

No matter what, Donkeawprai is planning to return to Thailand soon. In her bedsit on Vei 222 is a suitcase on the floor, and her passport and papers in a folder.

"She wants to go home now, she's homesick and misses her son," Jaidee said "She must pay for his schooling, so she will return to find a new job. But if anyone can offer me a job, I will stay here."

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