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Bringing chefs from Asia will be difficult, restaurants will intensify clear-cutting

A Thai chef in BaiYok restaurant

NOS News

Asian restaurants feel that it is made difficult to bring chefs from Asia. The rules will become stronger as of July 1.

As an exception to the general labor migration rules, they are now allowed to impose very specific job requirements on chefs, such as mandatory experience with Asian cooking and knowledge of the language and culture of, for example, China or Thailand.

Chefs who meet these requirements are difficult to find and consume in Europe, restaurants are relatively easy to obtain work permits for chefs from Asia. Every year they apply for permits for 2000 to 3000 Asian chefs. This not only concerns new chefs, but also extensions of existing permits.

But from July 1, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment will no longer allow restaurants to impose gigantic specific requirements. People with European chef training can also work for them with a few months of additional training, the government believes.

‘Insult to craft’

The Association of Chinese-Asian Catering Entrepreneurs fears that this will lead to a devastation and is calling for a petition to continue allowing the special requirements.

“It immediately becomes impossible or very difficult to have another expert chef from Thailand come here,” says Paul van der Helm of restaurant BaiYok in Zwolle, which he runs together with his Thai wife. They have six Thai chefs. One of them already worked in the Netherlands, the other five came over from Thailand. “The ministry says that a chef from the EU can learn this trade in six months, which is actually an insult to the craft.”

According to the owners of the restaurant in Zwolle, Thai cuisine is very difficult for Dutch chefs to learn:

Restaurateur about Thai chefs: ‘We need them to keep the place running’

The government has strengthened the rules partly because of abuses. The Labor Inspectorate was established in 2022 after finding that 45 percent of inspected companies violated the rules for Asian chefs. And during a targeted inspection that was 60 percent.

For example, the report describes a Chinese ‘specialty chef’ who is actually an IT professional and had to pay 8,000 euros to an agency in China for a job in the Netherlands. In the restaurant he only worked as a fry cook.

“I completely agree that companies that do not comply with the law should be punished,” says restaurateur Van der Helm. “But we are actually being collectively punished for something that individual entrepreneurs are responsible for.”

He says he would like nothing more than to employ chefs from the Netherlands. “I welcome them with open arms. That is much easier and cheaper for me than such a costly procedure to bring someone from Thailand. But in practice they are not there.”

In response, outgoing Minister Van Gennip points out that the new policy does not mean that the Asian catering industry can no longer recruit staff from outside the EU. “That remains possible if they meet the conditions for the permit application.”

Trade union: exploitation

Trade union FNV Horeca understands the concerns of restaurants, but believes that the sector should also look at itself. “Asian catering establishments have not dealt with their exceptional position smartly,” says Edwin Vlek of the association.

“There was more than average exploitation and removal of rules. If entrepreneurs had allowed them to work under the correct employment conditions, this discussion would not have happened.”

Wok agreement

In 2014, then Minister Asscher concluded a repeated ‘wok agreement’ with Asian restaurants. It was eager to be cooked at the time and it was actually made easier to get it from Asia. It was also the intention that more chefs in the Netherlands would be trained as Asian chefs.

Training has also been started for this, but that was not a success. Restaurants prefer to bring chefs from Asia. “That training did not exist for very long,” says Martijn Rosink of the SVO training institute. “There was no mandatory termination for restaurants to accept employees with a non-Asian background. In addition, the cultural difference and the workload were also a barrier.”

SVO currently has no plans for a new Asian specialty training course. “The traditional ‘Chinese’ is becoming less and less visible in the street scene,” says Rosink. “Many companies have disappeared or switched to all you can eat-formulas and sushi. This requires some more general kitchen skills.”

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