From Iceland — Foreign Workers Subjected To Exploitation, Unions And Police Now Involved

Foreign Workers Subjected To Exploitation, Unions And Police Now Involved

Published February 8, 2019

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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Representatives for the Icelandic Confederation of Labour Unions (ASÍ) and the police visited the living conditions of foreign workers, most of them from Romania, where it has come to light that they have been subjected to multiple instances of worker exploitation. The matter is currently under investigation of both the unions and the police.

The matter was brought to light by RÚV’s investigative news show Kveikur. The workers in question, who are being housed in Kópavogur, are so-called “rented labour”—workers, typically brought in from abroad, who are loaned out to contractors by labour rental companies.

In this instance, the workers in question live in what union reps described as inhumane conditions. Up to ten workers at a time share a single room, with each one of them paying 50,000 ISK per month for this rudimentary shelter. Furthermore, they typically work 220 hours per month, six days a week, for salaries that are far below the minimum wage. One of the workers interviewed said that after rental deductions and other charges he was paid a paltry 38,000 ISK for two weeks of work.

After enduring these conditions for months, many of these workers told the labour rental company in question, Menn í vinnu, that they were quitting due to being underpaid. In response, the rental company told these workers they needed to immediately move out, prompting the workers to contact the unions.

“These workers who live here have been in touch with us, and the media, as they have nowhere else to turn,” assistant director of ASÍ Halldór Grönvold told reporters. “They’re broke, jobless, have not been paid and now have been threatened with eviction.”

Halldór says the matter is now under investigation by many parties. The labour union Efling is investigating their pay, the Directorate of Labour is looking into their documentation, and ASÍ has asked the police to follow up on the matter.

This is, unfortunately, no isolated incident. Worker exploitation, especially exploitation of foreign workers, is an endemic problem in Iceland. As Grapevine has reported repeatedly, foreign workers in Iceland are far more likely to be exploited than locals, and the problem has become especially pronounced in the tourism industry.

Some of the examples of exploitation that have been uncovered include underpaying workers; not giving them such basic rights as overtime and breaks; housing workers in conditions unfit for human living and physical abuse.

There are some 37,000 foreign workers in Iceland, comprising 20% of the workforce while comprising only 13% of the total population—these workers, most of them working in trades within or related to the tourism industry, are arguably the driving force behind the “boom time” economy Iceland currently enjoys.

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