From Iceland — Company Possibly Engaging In Worker Exploitation

Company Possibly Engaging In Worker Exploitation

Published January 21, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Slandsvi/Wikimedia Commons

Grapevine has learned of instances of worker exploitation at an Icelandic company. Two former employees of the company, one Polish and the other Icelandic, reported the same kinds of treatment. The contentions of the company head do not hold up to examination according to Icelandic law.

The Grapevine was recently alerted about the case of Dominick Buczkowski, a Polish national who moved to Iceland early last November. Shortly thereafter, he began working for the steelworking company Stjörnustál. Over the next two and a half months, he told us, he worked 10 to 12 hours per day. During this time, he was paid in cash; 50,000 ISK the first time, and another 50,000 ISK in cash the second time, just before Christmas. This is far below the legal minimum wage for the hours he put in.

He was not given a contract, despite repeated requests, until earlier this month. He never received pay slips (launaseðill), which would have detailed what hours he was paid for. On top of this, he was hired and working throughout this time without a kennitala, a government-issued identification number that is necessary for all kinds of official business, such as opening a bank account and paying taxes. Dominick told us that despite repeated requests to his employer for help in getting a kennitala, this was never provided. At the time, he was not fully aware of what his rights and obligations were, and he was not informed of them, either.

Dominick is now seeking retribution at the trade union Efling. His case, it turns out, is not unique.

Another former employee of Stjörnustál, an Icelander who asked for his name to be withheld, reported a story similar to Dominick’s. The Icelander in question worked at Stjörnustál for about six months in 2010. He was also never given a contract, was paid in cash, worked 12 hour days but was paid late and far below what he was owed.

Grapevine contacted Stjörnustál managing director Grétar Jón Elfarsson, to get his take on the matter.

“We have everything clear and straight at this company,” he told us. He admitted paying Dominick in cash, and employing him despite his not having a kennitala. However, he denied the amount of hours Dominick worked, and also contended it was perfectly legal to employ a worker without a kennitala, and said that despite this, he has paid all owed taxes on Dominick’s salary.

Both of these assertions are false.

Grapevine contacted the Directorate of Internal Revenue (RSK) on the matter. Guðrún Ásta Sigurðardóttir, a lawyer at RSK, told us that not only is it illegal to employ someone without a kennitala; it is impossible to be able to pay taxes on employee wages without one. Such an employer is therefore not obeying Icelandic tax law.

On contacting Efling to discuss Dominick’s case, service agent Tryggvi Marteinsson confirmed that he could not discuss the specific details of a particular case with the press. However, he said that cases of worker exploitation – such as being underpaid, overworked, and not receiving a contract – are unfortunately common, and have been on the rise in recent years. He emphasised that this kind of exploitation is most common in bars and restaurants, and is applied to foreign and Icelandic workers alike.

Despite this experience, Dominick wants to continue living and working in Iceland. He intends to get himself registered with a kennitala, and to find work for a reputable company, as it is his hope to be able to build a life for himself here.

Workers who are new to the job market, wherever they may hail from, should be sure to inform themselves of their rights and, if an employer will not meet demands to honour those rights, seek recourse from a labour union.

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