Foreign Workers Subjected To "Modern Slavery" - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Foreign Workers Subjected To “Modern Slavery”

Published September 30, 2015

Photo by
BenAveling/Wikimedia Commons

Some foreign workers in Iceland are being subjected to slavery conditions, says a union official, and the problem is nationwide.

RÚV reports that The Icelandic Union of Marine Engineers and Metal Technicians (VM) has received a copy of a hiring contract for Romanian workers, which was forwarded to the union by the Directorate of Labour for review. Halldór Grönvold, the assistant director of the Confederate of Icelandic Labour Unions (ASÍ), was blunt in his criticism of the contract’s terms.

“There is actually nothing in the contract that follows the law and regulations in Iceland regarding people brought to the country to work,” he said. “I would say that yes, it’s just modern slavery. Making sure the individual has no rights.”

The Romanian worker who was given this contract was hired by a company in Romania which operates under the behest of an Icelandic company, and Guðmundur says he knows of others who have been hired to work in Iceland in this way. The contract falls far short of the current collective bargaining agreement for VM workers. For example, the day work period is 12 hours long, at a rate of only 10 euros an hour. In addition, the worker may not work for another Icelandic company for another five years or be hit with a 25,000 ISK fine.

ASÍ has sent a letter to the Directorate urging them to demand the companies involved to correct the contract. At the same time, Guðmundur says, the registration of foreign workers with the Directorate has been far under par, with hundreds of workers brought to Iceland by such companies while not even legally registered.

The news comes in the wake of reports from another union, Framsýn, who expressed grave concern that foreign worker exploitation has become widespread in north Iceland, in particular in the food service, construction and tourist industries.

“We have received news of some ugly cases connected to construction, food service and tourism,” Framsýn chairperson Aðalsteinn Árni Baldursson told reporters. “People have been exploited, they have been offered wages that are not in harmony with Icelandic law, and they are mostly foreign workers who have come to Iceland to do temporary work, for a few months.”

Aðalsteinn says he has been in touch with both the Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions and the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland over the matter. He has also been in touch with those companies accused of worker exploitation to give them a chance to improve conditions.

If they do not improve conditions, he said, the union will be forced to take “appropriate measures”, which include going to the police and the tax authorities.

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