Published August 3, 2014
A former employee of Lebowski Bar, after asking to be paid according to the law, was fired from her position. Trade union Efling says the exploitation of restaurant workers is common, and that there is little they can do about it.
MBL reports that Gréta Sóley Sigurðardóttir began working at Lebowski Bar at the end of May, and was happy at her job until she got her first paycheck on July 1.
Gréta was being paid what is known as a jafnaðarlaun, a form of offsetting wages. While most workers in Iceland are given a base salary for day work – with a percentage of that added to it for working evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays – the jafnaðarlaun pays workers one hourly wage for any shifts, regardless of the day or time.
This practice, an employee of the trade union Efling says, is almost always in violation of the existing collective bargaining agreement.
“In the majority of cases, people who are paid a jafnaðarlaun are being paid far under what is considerd the minimum wage for the work they are doing,” Efling staffer Tryggvi Marteinsson told reporters. “It is no coincidence that when we do the calculations, the jafnaðarlaun is lower than the minimum wage.”
However, Tryggvi says there is little trade unions can do to combat the practice.
“We know of many workplaces staffed with hundreds that pay too low a wage,” he said. “Maybe 5 to 10 employees will come to us each month, we send out endless salary demands [to their employers], they get corrected, but all the rest are still paid too little.”
In Gréta’s case, her jafnaðarlaun was 1,550 ISK per hour. When she consulted the collective bargaining agreement for her trade, she discovered that she should have been paid at least 1,700 ISK per hour for working evenings, and more for working weekends and holidays.
“I spoke to my boss about my paycheck, calling him and saying that I was not happy as I didn’t know I was being paid jafnaðarlaun,” she said. “He said, ‘Did you ask?’ I said no, because I naturally presumed I would be paid fairly.”
Gréta was told that everyone at Lebowski Bar is paid jafnaðarlaun, and the practice would not be changed for her. She told her boss she was going to call her union.
“Five minutes later, I got a call from my boss saying they were going to put my shifts ‘on hold’ until they sorted this out,” she said. “I sent an SMS saying that I wanted to have this in writing before the evening, as I was scheduled to work. I received a reply that they were going to send me my walking papers, and that they regretted that it didn’t work out.”
Gréta was shocked to hear this, saying she enjoyed working there and wanted to continue doing so, so long as she was being paid fairly.
“He told me flat out that they were not going to pay me the right wage, and that’s why I was fired,” she said.
“I think it’s human nature, especially when you’re just starting out on the job market, to trust your boss,” Tryggvi said. “But there is no reason for people to profit from being dishonest. There is nothing natural about that.”