My broken Icelandic dream - The Reykjavik Grapevine

My broken Icelandic dream

My broken Icelandic dream

Published May 26, 2009

When I decided to move to Iceland I imagined moving to a country with a fair society and without discrimination. My first job experience was in the City Hostel. I had a job from the first day of my arrival and I could live at the hostel. I didn’t want to ask what my salary would be before moving, because I was scared to sound too greedy, but after a few weeks I started to ask my boss about my contract and my salary. She then started to give me appointments where she wasn’t at the office or was too busy.
At the end of my first month of work I finally had a meeting with her, where she told me that I was going to be paid 700 ISK per hour, and that I wasn’t legally hired but I wasn’t black either; I was “grey” (I never figured out what she meant). I later moved to the apartment of the hostel employees, to a shared room in a 4-room apartment for 8 employees. A month of rent was for everybody 60 hours of work, regardless of any differences in salary. After one and a half months I got fired from the hostel. Since my boss knew that I had some trouble with the police, she decided to make a legal contract for the time I had worked there and to pay me 750 ISK for the worked hours.
When I got fired I asked my boss how much she was paying for renting the employees’ apartment but she told me that it wasn’t my business and that it was a fair price for Reykjavík (I later moved to a single room behind Hallgrímskirkja for 40.000 ISK a month, so it really wasn’t a fair price).
Many months later while I was doing my tax report, I found out that the hostel was supposed to pay 90.000 ISK more than what they had paid me. I don’t know if it was just a mistake, but most of the employees at the hostel are foreigners that are working in Iceland for a couple of months. If I would have left the country before doing my tax report I would never had known about that missing money.
My trouble with the police was after a demonstration where I was arrested. It was a demonstration by Saving Iceland, where we walked from Perlan to downtown with a sound system. The police stopped the walk on Snorrabraut; they arrested four people and destroyed a window of the car to silence the sound system. After that we went to the police station in Hverfisgata, waiting for the people to be released. When I was in front of the police station some cops came out, two of them grabbed me and they brought me inside the station. They told me that I was arrested for having damaged a police car; I was very surprised because I hadn’t touched any police car. When I asked what evidence they had, a policeman replied: “We saw you, we don’t need evidence.”
So they closed me in a cell for 19 hours. During that time they gave me just an apple for dinner; the next meal I got was the next day, brought by some friends. During the evening a policeman came and asked me if I wanted a lawyer and go to court or if I wanted to pay 20.000 ISK and get out. I asked for the lawyer and I said that I wanted it straight away. After some hours another policeman came in and told me that the court would be much more expensive than 20.000 ISK. By that time I had quite enough and I was starting to feel ill, so I said that I would pay to get out. They left me there anyway and the next day I had an interview with a cop that asked me some very funny questions, like “who was the boss of Saving Iceland?” or “who invited me to come to Iceland to protest?” After the interview I was released, without having to pay, but the police kept my passport and told me that they would send it to the Keflavík airport when I would leave the country. By then I didn’t have a kennitala so I was fucked: without my passport I wasn’t able to apply for the social security number; I wasn’t able to open a bank account to get my salary, I wasn’t able to rent a room; I wasn’t even able to borrow a book from the library.
As soon as I got out from the police station I felt that I had to do something about it, some institutions had to help me, that the police arrested me and kept my ID with no reason and no right to do so. But who is a higher institution than police? The parliament? Politicians? They don’t care about this. I tried to find help from the Italian consulate, but the only thing that they did was to call the police station without being able to find out who kept my ID. The police kept my passport for a month where I was desperate because I had no money left and I got fired from the hostel, so I had to leave the employee’s apartment. I went back to the police station and finally I got my passport back. All this happened in the summer of 2007 and I didn’t have any more troubles with my life in Iceland until the beginning of 2009.
I came back to Iceland after my Christmas vacation and I got my job back as a postman but with a New Year surprise: I wasn’t paid any more per-day, but per-hour. As a postman, being paid per-hour is insane because you never know how much mail you will get so you never know how much your salary will be at the end of the month. Another surprise (that my boss didn’t bother to tell me about) was that I wouldn’t have any sick-days or paid holidays. This is the postal service’s solution to the kreppa: letting employees work as much as before but paid less.
Another surprise was that this hour-paid contract was only for me and a couple of kids who were hired after the crisis. So I started arguing with my boss, because I wanted to have the same contract as everybody else. My boss told me that she couldn’t trust me anymore so she fired me. I was supposed to get unemployment benefits from the first day but Vinnumálastofnun said that I was fired because I “behaved bad” so they treated me like I had resigned from the job (meaning that the benefits would start to be collected after 40 working days). I repeatedly contacted the Postmen Union (Póstmannafélag Íslands) but they didn’t help me in any way.
All this taught me that my image of Iceland was crap. What I just learnt is that the society is the same everywhere, it’s not better in Iceland than in Italy. I still want to live here, but I also want to speak up when I get treated unfairly.

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