Kim, who works for the nail salon franchise Five five nails, show how her boss wants her to pay back money from her salary every month. Foto: SVT

Nail technicians are being forced to pay back a big part of their salary to the employer

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UPPDRAG GRANSKNING · Employees at one of the biggest nail salon franchises in Sweden says they are being forced to pay back a big part of their salary to their employer every month. If they complain, they risk having to leave the country. Mission investigate can reveal a system which is described as human trafficking – in Swedish shopping malls.

Mission investigate has been in contact with three women who are working for Five five nails – one of the biggest nail salon franchises in Sweden, with salons in major shopping malls in Stockholm and Gothenburg.

The women are describing slave like working conditions – ten hour working days, six days a week – without overtime compensation or vacation.

But they also describe a system that uses legit payment agreements and working contracts that looks good on paper, but in fact is something completely different. The nail technicians explain how they are being forced to pay back thousands of Swedish kronor to their employer every month, after they have received their salaries.

One of them is Thu from Vietnam. She used to work at one of the  salons, which was run as a separate company on a franchise contract with Five five nails.

– The first month I didn’t get any salary. The next month, in March, I got 7000 kronor. And she told me “you cannot have the salary that you have on the contract, you must work hard, and I’ll be watching you. If you do good, you will have a good salary, if you do not, you keep a low salary.”

“We are in her hands”

Thu received a fair salary into her account, which she paid tax for. But she was supposed to send back a big part of the money to her boss every month.

– We can’t quit, we can’t do anything because we are in her hands. If we do something wrong, maybe we will be harmed, she says.

After Thu decided to complain about the salary, she had to quit her job and leave the flat she and her husband were renting through the salon. She has now filed a lawsuit against the company.

– It’s unacceptable to have companies which aren’t following neither Swedish law, collective agreements they’ve entered with the union, nor the individual contracts of employment, says Kristina Ahlström, Thu’s attorney.

In a comment to Mission investigate, a representative of the salon says that the money which is being sent back are due to food expenses, loans and that the company helps the employees to transfer money to relatives in Vietnam. Thu and her family claim that the explanation is false.

Calculations on post-it notes

Many of the employees at the Five five nail salons are Vietnamese who have come to Sweden for work. Mission investigate has been in contact with two other women who are working for the business chain. Just like Thu, they say that large amounts of money must be paid back to their employer after they’ve received their salary.

– Every month, he gives me a small paper to amount how much I’ve worked that month. And I have to pay the difference between the salary on the small paper and the money in my bank account, says Kim, one of the women.

Kim shows post-it notes with the handwritten calculations.

– This month I worked 26 days and my salary for one day is 384 kronor, so this month I’ll get 10 000. He sent to my bank account 17 478, and minus 10 000, so I have to give him back 7478 kronor.

So you have to send back 7478 into his bank account? Do you know why you have to send back money?

– I don’t know why.

The manager of the salon where Kim has been working doesn’t want to answer Mission investigate’s questions.

“In many ways sheer human trafficking”

An employer needs to issue a work offer to a person abroad if they are to get a work permit in Sweden. If the employer ends the contract, the employee must leave the country.

The women that Mission investigate has been in contact with testifies to terminations of contracts, threats and recalled work permits after they’ve complained about their working conditions.

– I would like to say that this, in many ways, is human trafficking. We probably won’t get any closer in any other context where this is shown in such a way, says Conny Svensson, national coordinator at the Swedish tax agency.

Through his agent, the founder of Five five nails, Mr. Wing Luu, says that he’s sorry to hear that employees at the franchise companies are dissatisfied with the situation in the salons. His agent writes in email that Mr. Wing Luu will ensure that the process of recruitment will follow Swedish law and that entered collective agreements always will be kept.

In the case of Thu, the Swedish migrations agency has filed a police report against the company on suspicion of human trafficking. She has received a prolonged residence permit while the preliminary investigation is ongoing.

Together with another colleague, Kim has reported her case to the union organisation Handelsanställdas förbund, which has begun a negotiation with the salon. 

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