From Iceland — Growing Calls For Reform Following House Fire That Killed Three Polish Workers

Growing Calls For Reform Following House Fire That Killed Three Polish Workers

Published June 30, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
Poppy Askham

Urgent calls for legislative change are growing in the wake of a house fire on Bræðraborgarstígur 1 that killed three people on June 25th.

As reported, a demonstration was held on Sunday to mourn those who died in the blaze and to demand reform. Several organisations have now echoed protesters’ sentiments in order to increase pressure on the government.

Today, June 30th, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason will attend a welfare committee meeting to discuss legislative change. Committee chair Helga Vala Helgadóttir told Vísir that one proposal may be to give regulators permission to enter non-commercial rental properties to inspect safety conditions.

The Efling trade union has been one of the most vocal advocates for reform. It was recently been confirmed that two of their members died in the fire.

The union statement says that the men were foreign workers who came to Iceland in search of employment and found themselves “entrapped by individuals who provided them with dangerous accommodation in unacceptable conditions.” For proof, the statement references a 2015 Stundin interview that exposed the house’s unsafe living conditions.

Efling is awaiting the result of the police’s investigation into the incident which may take several months, but stresses that there must also be wider discussion about the treatment of foreign workers in Iceland.

The union demands greater governmental action in response to the tragedy. It  calls for the Minister For Social Affairs to institute fines for breaches of collective agreements and for the greater Icelandic public to proactively tackle discrimination against low-wage foreign workers.

“This terrible tragedy must have real consequences. I have no words to describe this country if that doesn’t happen,” writes Efling head Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir of the Socialist Party on Reykjavík City Council has also released a statement in which the party calls for a council of immigrants to be established, giving foreign workers in low-paid jobs a platform through which to address issues such as inadequate housing.

Most urgently they demand that those who lost their home in the fire be housed in one of the numerous closed hotels in the city. The party also calls for a consolidation of tenants’ rights in general. One of their suggestions is to provide office space to the Association of Tenants and to fund two paid employees.

The statement ends with a strong condemnation of the city authorities: “The City government’s first and foremost responsibility should be to ensure the safety and security of the poor and the powerless. In this regard, the City government has completely failed its duty.”

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