New research for the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre has investigated the conditions of foreign workers in the tourism industry, from the point of view of the workers themselves and relevant unions.
This research shows that while foreign workers have increased their presence in the tourism industry as the industry grows, there are also far too many instances of worker exploitation. A doctor of anthropology who spoke to Vísir believes one tool against this exploitation would be to inform these workers of their rights as soon as they arrive in Iceland.
According to the research, in 2019 over 13% of people on the Icelandic labour market were working within the tourism industry, up from about 7% in 2008. Over the same period of time, the number of foreign workers within this industry increased from 2,427 to 10,551—an increase of 435%. The vast majority—about 70%—were working in either dining or accommodation.
Both foreign workers and Icelandic union officials who participated in the research cited numerous examples of exploitation within the industry.
Amongst the incidences reported, incorrectly calculated salaries, a lack of overtime pay or days off, unclear employment contracts, a lack of chance for advancement despite educational level and work experience, being paid solely or mostly in the form of accommodation and food, and poor living conditions were all experiences cited by those who experienced exploitation in the Icelandic tourism industry.
“Unfortunately this is not at all a new problem,” doctor of anthropology Hallfríður Þórarinsdóttir told reporters. “This has been ongoing for many years now.”
Hallfríður agrees with one of the research’s conclusion points, that foreign workers should be informed of their rights upon arrival in Iceland.
“It is our duty to inform people who come to this country,” she said. “Information is fragmented, and situations are relative. If I come from Rumenia where, as a nurse, I was making 60,000 ISK per month, and then come to Iceland and am paid 280,000 ISK per month in general labour, I might find this to be a lot of money, but I might not be getting the pay that I should be getting [by law]. I am maybe being cheated without even knowing it, because I don’t know my rights.”
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