Increasingly Difficult For Icelandic Unions To Protect Workers' Rights

Increasingly Difficult For Icelandic Unions To Protect Workers’ Rights

Alice Demurtas
Photos by
Art Bicnick

According to new a report from the labour union Efling, 60% of cases involving violations of workers’ rights last year have involved foreign employees living in Iceland, with issues that go from wage imbalance to illegal contracts.

The union specifies that 13% of workers in Iceland come from abroad, with more than 3,000 of them having moved to the country in 2017. Following the tourist boom and the growth of the construction industry, foreign workers seem to be mostly filling positions within these two sectors. Despite the stream of workers pouring in from abroad, Efling also specifies that the rate of unemployment in Iceland has never been this low.

Illegal contracts

Along an increase in foreign workers, however, the union has also recorded increasing difficulties in making sure that workers’ rights aren’t violated. Because these individuals come from other countries, they are often not familiar with their rights in Iceland. A number of them don’t even know that they need to be registered in a union. In our recent interview with the group of foreign workers running for the chair position within Efling, almost 50% of the workers registered with the union are of foreign origin. Most cases that are brought to Efling for review are related to wages or taxes, but more cases involving illegal work and spurious rental contracts provided by employment agencies have been brought forward as well.

Visir has recently published a picture of one such contract. It stated that the employer has the right to directly deduct from the worker’s salary 12,500 ISK (120 USD) for unspecified “maintenance fees”; 6,500 ISK (60 USD) for transport to and from work; 25,000 ISK (248 USD) for “administration costs” if the employee works for less than a month and 15,000 ISK (140 USD) if he or she works less than two months. Additional deductions included any amount of money that the employee owes the employer in rent, clothing, plane tickets, transport, gym membership or personal debt. This is a clear violation of labour rights and Icelandic laws, but it’s not the only case recorded in Iceland.

Efling has concluded that this kind of behaviour from local employers calls for a necessary revaluation in the monitoring and analysis of the Icelandic labour market.


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