From China to Greenland
The Chinese couple Li Shumei and Chen Qinliang are highly valued employees in Royal Greenland’s plant in Maniitsoq, Greenland. They arrived in May 2017 with the first group of foreign workers recruited to lift production capacity in Greenland.
Li explains that the best thing about Greenland is the weather: ‘Here in Maniitsoq the weather is not as cold as we expected or had been told – the winter snow is magnificent and in the summer Greenland is wonderful; when the sun is out the air is fresh, neither too cold or too hot, and the scenery is beautiful’
Li and Chen both work in the factory, primarily with cod in the summer and Greenland halibut during winter, where they shift between the fileting lines and packaging. They both feel committed to their work and feel well appreciated by colleagues and factory management.
More than 60 foreign employees in Greenland
In Maniitsoq Li and Chen are two of 11 Chinese employees working alongside 130 local colleagues in the factory. Approximately 50 other foreign colleagues work in primarily Uummannaq and Ilulissat. Most are Chinese, but also a few colleagues in Ilulissat come from the Philippines.
Lack of labour is a serious challenge in some factories along the Greenlandic West coast. Especially in the summer period when key fisheries such as coastal cod- and Greenland halibut fishing peak a lot of extra hands are needed. In 2016 Royal Greenland therefore decided to apply for permission to recruit foreign workers to Greenland. For years we have co-operated with external processing factories in China, where highly skilled employees had experience working with fish species from Greenland and other parts of the North Atlantic. Via network and the local Royal Greenland office in Qingdao, China, we thus managed to recruit the first group of 39 Chinese employees who arrived in Greenland in 2017. In 2020 around 60 foreign workers contribute strongly to the production units in Greenland.
Cheng Xiaoqing, aka Julia is everybody’s go-to-person. Julia has lived in Aassiat, Greenland since 2010 and was recruited as a consultant to Royal Greenland when the first Chinese employees arrived in 2017. With a background within teaching and personnel administration in China, Julia was a good fit. She played a key role in translation, assisted foreign employees with contact to public authorities, participated in meetings at the factories and was the one to lean on with any kind of questions or doubts.
In 2018, Julia became a full-time employee in the HR department, responsible for any projects related to foreign employees. Julia is impressed with the willingness and interest in interaction between Greenlandic and foreign staff, even though the language and culture would be expected to be a huge barrier: ‘Especially in the beginning both foreign and Greenlandic employees were very curious and interested in each other. People managed to discuss quite complicated matters via google translate or body language and made friends across cultures and languages’. Julia also explains that many new friendships and relationships have been established, but that over time more people also stay within their own cultural background in the spare time.
Greenlandic collective agreements for all employees
Work conditions for employees from abroad are exactly the same as for Greenlandic employees. In Greenland, salary, working hours, holiday and other work-related matters are agreed collectively between employers and trade unions. The Greenlandic salary level and work conditions make it attractive for i.e. Chinese workers to work in Greenland. Every year, the employees from abroad need to apply for a prolongation of their work permit, a task that Julia in the HR department is responsible for.
Royal Greenland has provided housing for the foreign employees, here more persons live together in one house, sharing kitchen and living room facilities.
A lot of employees from abroad have decided to stay in Greenland. Some have formed a family with Greenlandic partners, and many have developed close local friendships. By the end of 2020 it will be 3,5 years since the first arrival of foreign employees. A few went home after two years and new colleagues arrived. Now more people are considering going back to their home countries, where relatives and friends are missed.
Li and Chen return to China
In spite of great devotion to Greenland, to their new friends, jobs, the climate and beautiful nature, Li and Chen have decided to move back to China: ‘We have taken advantage of our young age, interest in seeing new places and desire to work hard in order to save up extra money. Greenland is a wonderful place and we love being here. However, with family in China growing older, we now look forward to going home’, Li says. She and her husband Chen expect to return to China in 2021 – and maybe one day come back to Greenland again.