From Iceland — Immigrants Work More For Less Pay

Immigrants Work More For Less Pay

Published April 17, 2015

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Jói Kjartans

New research on immigrants in the workforce shows they tend to work longer hour for less pay than their Icelandic colleagues.

This was amongst the findings of Erla S. Kristjánsdóttir and Þóra Christiansen, Fréttatíminn reports, in research they conducted on immigrants in Iceland. In addition to the pay gap, they found that foreigners had difficulty finding jobs suited to their education level, or having their education recognised at all.

“For some reason, the education foreigners have is not put to use in Iceland, and that’s why we thought it would be interesting to speak with these people and see how they experience their bargaining positions,” Þóra said. “Do they not have any demands, or do they not trust themselves to make demands? Do they not even get an opportunity to make them?”

What their research found was that two majors factors played a part: language comprehension and a lack of social connections. Learning the language and building social connections are crucial to being able to advance in the workplace, Þóra said, but sometimes “people might be scared of losing their jobs if they demand a higher salary,” adding, “People who see themselves in a vulnerable position are unlikely to ask for a higher salary.”

At the same time, there are social hindrances in the way. Foreigners the researchers spoke to were mostly of the opinion that the Icelandic word for a foreigner, útlendingur, sounds demeaning to their ears. Many foreigners are given the impression that they ought to be grateful they are even allowed to work in Iceland, and should not complain about how much they are getting paid. Employers should discard presumptions about their foreign staff, and use their education and abilities to the fullest, Þóra said, adding that a discussion on cultural discrimination in the workplace needs to be opened up.

“There are plenty of people here who have the education and the ability, and want to live here rather than elsewhere,” Þóra said. “Still, they do not receive the same opportunities as Icelanders. It is of course a complete shame not to use the knowledge these people are bringing to our small country.”

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