Jóhannes S. Ólafsson, lawyer for Menn Í Vinnu, will be working on two libel cases tomorrow, Vísir reports. The cases are against María Lóa Friðjónsdóttir, specialist in workplace supervision at the Icelandic Confederation of Labour Unions (ASÍ), and Unnur Sverrisdóttir, director of the Directorate of Labour.
As reported, Icelandic public broadcasting’s news investigative show Kveikur drew public attention to the matter of Romanian workers employed by Menn í vinnu. In this instance, 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.
Since the airing of this story, numerous officials have come forward to condemn the exploitation to the media, amongst them María Lóa and Unnur.
In Johannes’s opinion, all the evidence of the case showed that allegations that the Romanians had been treated poorly were false. “This treatment of the company in the media is one of a kind in this country, and it is therefore my opinion and the opinion of my clients that it must be decided whether such an attack will cause suffering,” he said.
It was reported in early March that Johannes had sent a letter to numerous parties requesting an apology. He also requested payment of damages for malicious comments. In that group were Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Efling; Drífa Snædal, president of ASÍ; Halldór Þór Grönvold, deputy director general of ASÍ; and Viðar Þorsteinsson, managing director of Efling, as well as the aforementioned individuals. He also sent such a letter to the representatives of Sín hf. and reporter Eiríkur Jónsson, whom Johannes said was the only one to apologise for his comments.
Subsequently, litigation was prepared against María Lóa and Unnur in the first round. “It was clear to all that my client’s financial situation was very bad after this approach, which knocked the legs out from under the company’s operation. This made the situation difficult for a judge to request that the company submit 1.2 million in legal costs insurance in each case. After careful consideration, it was decided to provide that guarantee in the case against María Lóa but not in the case against Unnur, which will mean that it will be dismissed tomorrow. The damage is done to Menn Í Vinnu. In our opinion, it is a matter of urgency to determine whether such action against companies is felt in Icelandic society.”
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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