One Fatality So Far
One important issue revolves around safety issues in general and training qualifications of foreigners working at the site. All workers at power plant sites must work to a standard agreement, part of which states that the workers must have qualifications approved by the Icelandic authorities. Impregilo is unwilling to comply with these rules, instead saying that most of their overseas workers are highly experienced and that long experience makes up for lack of formal qualifications.
And there was a fatal accident at Kárahnjúkar last March.
Accommodation provided by Impregilo for its workers was substandard for a long time. Two people shared a small room, there was no communal area, and the cafeteria was too small, both as far as kitchen staff and Kárahnjúkar workers were concerned. Conditions have now improved, but some of the new buildings are still prone to frost and leakage. Even the new dining area, which was heralded at the time as a vast improvement, was criticized at a recent site visit by Impregilo executives from Italy.
While it was still in the planning stage, in a time of increasing unemployment, the authorities promised that dam construction would provide jobs for Icelanders. And, although Impregilo said they would employ some of their previous employees who had experience of working on dam sites, the Icelandic government promised the Confederation of Icelandic Labour that the ratio of Icelanders to foreigners would be approximately 80:20.
A Long Way from China…
This, however, is not the case. Impregilo itself now employs only about 100 Icelanders out of 1100 employees. Impregilo says that Icelanders do not want to work there and the turnover is very high, but one reason for this could be that much higher salaries are paid for similar work elsewhere. Other European workers do not stay long either, so Impregilo are now resorting to bringing in workers from outside the EU, primarily China, much to the anger of the Icelandic trade union movement. Because they receive a much higher salary than they would do back in China, and because they would have to pay the prohibitive cost of a flight back to China themselves if they decided to leave before the end of the 5.5 month contract, Chinese workers are more likely to stay.
…And Somewhat Colder than Portugal
Approximately 150 Portuguese employees also work on the site, recruited through an employment agency in Portugal subcontracted by Impregilo. These employees at one point were stuffing newspaper in their shoes because they had not been provided with adequate footwear. Allegations are now afoot that the Portuguese receive lower wages, as Impregilo has not been deducting the full amount of tax from their salaries because the Portuguese have to pay tax back in Portugal.
Landsvirkjun has also contracted out some of the work to a few other Icelandic companies, one of which, Arnarfell, employs virtually only Icelanders while Fossverk employs 20 foreigners out of a total staff of 110. Neither Arnarfell nor Fossverk have difficulty recruiting and keeping workers, which perhaps says something about Impregilo.