Police recently arrested four foreigners at a construction site who are alleged to be working in Iceland under false pretenses, Vísir reports. The chair of one of Iceland’s largest labour unions has criticised these arrests, saying that authorities should focus on employers who exploit foreign workers rather than “criminalise the needs of other people”.
The men in question were working at a construction site in Garðabær. Police say that they are suspected of possessing falsified passports and using these documents in order to work in Iceland, when they would normally have no legal right to do so. Two of them are asylum seekers. They have since been taken into police custody for questioning.
Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the chair of Efling, one of Icelnad’s largest labour unions, posted a lengthy status on Facebook criticising the arrests.
“This is horrible,” she writes of the arrests. “The most marginalised people in our society are being chased and harassed, people who literally have no safe harbour. These are people who often have to put up with violence and wage theft, and don’t feel confidence in going to unions or the police when these things happen, because they don’t expect any good to come of it.”
She points out that given a choice between working illegally and not surviving, people will choose to work illegally. This point is especially salient in light of the fact that asylum seekers do not have the right to work in Iceland until their applications are accepted and they get an Icelandic identity number.
“We should see the merits of not criminalising the needs of other people,” she writes. “We should see the merits in giving people who come to this country the same opportunities to find work as others. The fact is, if we don’t, it leads to continued underbidding [of wages] and continued labour violations.”
Sólveig also aims her criticism at the Icelandic government, whom she accuses of letting management get away with not including a clause about wage theft in labour legislation.
“This is shameful,” she writes in conclusion. “I condemn this behaviour and the priorities of the Icelandic government.”
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