From Iceland — 400 Gather In Remembrance, Call For End Of Exploitation Of Foreign Workers

400 Gather In Remembrance, Call For End Of Exploitation Of Foreign Workers

Published June 29, 2020

Photo by
Poppy Askham

Some 400 people gathered in front of Parliament last Saturday in remembrance of those who perished, were injured, or displaced by last Thursday’s house fire in West Reykjavík. By all accounts, the residents were foreign workers living in deplorable conditions, and so the event also called for authorities to take steps to end the exploitation of foreign workers.

After manifesting at Parliament, attendees then made their way to Bræðraborgarstígur 1—the site of the tragedy—to leave flowers and observe solemn remembrance.

As reported, the house that burned down last Thursday, resulting in three deaths and numerous people injured, has itself has appeared in the media on a few occasions as housing workers living in unfit conditions. In 2015, Stundin interviewed a former resident of the house, who described the house as dilapidated, infected with mold, and housing mostly foreign rental workers who paid as much as 90,000 ISK per month in rent for a small room, with no fire exit apart from the main entrance. In 2018, journalist Eiríkur Jónsson also reported on the unsanitary living conditions visible even from outside the house.

One former resident of the property told RÚV that the residence was indeed in poor shape, and that the property owner resisted making necessary repairs to the extent that residents were forced to refuse to pay their rent until those repairs were made. According to the former resident, he was paying 80,000 ISK a month for a tiny room. 14 other people reportedly lived in the place, all of them sharing a single kitchen and bathroom.

The property is registered as belonging to a company called HD verk ehf, Vísir reports. They also report that this property is not registered as a residential property nor as a guesthouse, making it illegal to house people there. This company appeared in Stundin in the summer of 2015 as they also owned AR Guesthouse, which was shut down by police for operating without a license. People connected HD Verk ehf. have still not commented on the matter at the time of this writing.

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) subsequently also issued a statement calling upon authorities to take action.

“The labour movement has, for a long time, called for effective measures from the government to secure the working conditions of foreigners in Iceland, fight against human trafficking, and prevent underpayment,” the statement reads in part. “The labour movement has especially demanded that the living conditions of foreign workers provided by their employers are secure, and that employers are held accountable if the housing is unfit.”

Below are some videos from the manifestation, which were posted in the Facebook event page (direct links here and here):

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