Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the director of the labour union Efling, posted an open letter to the Icelandic government yesterday, calling upon them to make wage theft punishable by law—something that is not currently the case in Iceland, even though it was an express promise made by the current government in April 2019—and that if the government does not state what they intend to do soon, “I will do everything in my power as the director of Efling to compel you to stand by your promise.”
This letter was not made in a vacuum, and follows concerted, worker-led actions taken against exploitative employers in recent weeks.
Stundin reported on June 11th that four employees of the restaurant Messinn were suddenly fired at the end of last March, with an additional 15 given a 75% pay cut. While unemployment insurance is supposed to cover this 75%, the employer is obliged to pay the other 25%, which these employees have shown never happened. They are all owed unpaid wages, which they have yet to receive.
While Messinn was sold to new owners, a demonstration was held outside of the restaurant, MBL reported on July 4th, of these former employees making their situation known to those visiting the establishment. This led to the owner deciding to close the restaurant for the night.
Many of these former employees signed an open letter, dated July 8th and published by IWW Ísland, to the former owner, Baldvin Jóhann Kristinsson, demanding their unpaid wages.
The matter has not ended there, as these employees then signed an open letter on the same day to both Sólveig Anna and Efling vice chair Agnieszka Ewa Ziólkowska, which was also shared by IWW Ísland. In the letter, they point out that they had filed all the necessary documentation about their case on May 14th, but had yet to hear any word on what steps the union was taking, while their former employer was able to sell his restaurant.
Pointing out that, as union members, their dues pay the salaries of these union officials, “we would like to ask you what adequate measures have been taken to address this issue”.
Wage theft and other forms of exploitation of foreign workers in Iceland have come back in the spotlight, with Messinn being just one example of many. Sólveig’s letter states that they have received hundreds of complaints a year of unpaid wages, with around 700 such complaints made last year alone of unpaid wages totally more than 345 million ISK.
A response from the government is still pending.
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