Unions Step Up Efforts Against "Volunteer Jobs" - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Unions Step Up Efforts Against “Volunteer Jobs”

Published March 24, 2016

Photos by
Art Bicnick

An East Iceland labour union is going to start cracking down on employers advertising for “volunteers” on foreign websites.

East Iceland news service Austurfrétt reports that Sverrir Mar Albertsson, the managing director of the Union of General and Special Workers in East Iceland, told reporters his union will be “coming down hard” on employers advertising on the popular website workaway.info for volunteers to do jobs that, by Icelandic law, must be paid in harmony with the collective bargaining agreements of this country.

The jobs being advertised in Iceland include a wide range of professions, from child care and housework to food production, animal care and farm work. They are usually unpaid, although sometimes “pocket money” is offered, as well as room and board. While it is legal to ask for volunteers at a charity or NGO, these jobs have established collective bargaining agreements that guarantee workers a minimum wage, overtime, days off and other common benefits.

Sverrir said his union has been monitoring the site, and that employers violating Icelandic labour law will be cracked down on, especially during the summer, the high season of tourism in Iceland.

As reported, the site has also attracted the attention of other labour unions, including SGS.

“This is one of the most serious examples of underbidding on the labour market,” Drífa Snædal, the managing director of SGS, told Vísir. “There is a big difference between doing volunteer work for a charity or social group, and volunteering at a for-profit company. There is a white area, a gray area and a black area. In the black area are hotels and guesthouses asking for volunteers.”

Iceland has very clear labour laws where volunteer work is concerned. Unpaid work at a company that sells things – whether guest accommodation or farm products – is a violation of Icelandic labour law and standing collective bargaining agreements. Under no circumstances should anyone work without pay for a company that sells products or services.

As reported, foreign workers are much more likely to be victims of worker exploitation than their Icelandic counterparts. If you work in Iceland and believe you might not know your working rights, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour Unions (ASÍ) has compiled an English summary of your labour rights in Iceland. This information is also available in Polish, as Poles comprise the largest foreign demographic in Iceland.

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