People on Unemployment May Go Back to School Without Losing Benefits

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

People on unemployment will be permitted to enter academic programs without losing their benefits, RÚV reports. This is among the changes to current law being developed by a working group appointed by the Minister for Social Affairs.

Minister for Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason says that the changes are intended to benefit the long-term unemployed, among others. “People who are long-term unemployed can enter a study program as part of their [re-employment strategy], similar to what was done here after the financial crash. And I’m pinning a lot of hope on this—we’re putting the finishing touches on how it will be implemented and we’ll hopefully be able to introduce it in the coming days,” he explained.

According to a report published by the Directorate of Labour, unemployment at the end of July was at 8.8%. This is a slight improvement over June, if the percentage of people who are receiving both full- and part-time unemployment benefits are considered together. Currently, the number of people on part-time unemployment has gone down, but the number of people on full unemployment benefits has gone up. Taken together, there are currently around 21,000 people on some form of unemployment. Unemployment is expected to remain relatively stable in the coming month, or an anticipated 9% in August.

Unemployment highest in southwest

Broken down, the current data shows that unemployment is highest in the southwest, or 16.5%. It’s also higher among women in the same region: 19% of women versus 15% of men in the southwest are unemployed.

According to Unnur Sverrisdóttir, head of the Directorate of Labour, this gender disparity can be accounted for because a significant number of jobs in the tourism industry are typically staffed by women. “It’s cleaning in hotels, it’s service in restaurants etc, and, of course, it’s also flight crews. You could say that this probably started last year when WOWair went under.”

One out of five foreign nationals unemployed

The directorate’s data also shows that one out of five foreign nationals residing in Iceland is unemployed, or roughly 7,000 people total. The majority of these individuals are Polish, although Lithuanians make up the second-largest group of unemployed foreign workers, followed by Latvians.

“Thought it’s a shame to say, it’s like we’ve said before,” said Unnur. “Foreigners were the first out of the labour market and things have not gone very well for them getting work again.”

British Billionaire Plans to Build Fishing Lodge

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe hopes to build a 950 sq m [10,226 sq ft] fishing lodge on land he co-owns in Vopnafjörður, in Northeast Iceland, RÚV reports. According to the public zoning application, the development plans include an onsite restaurant and guesthouse.

Ratcliffe has purchased a significant amount of land in the area in recent years and owns a majority share of at least 30 properties, a minority share of nine, and fishing rights at two places within public lands around Selárdalur, home to one of the best salmon rivers in the country. In the past, he’s stated that he bought the land in the name of environmental protection and in order to protect Icelandic salmon stock.

In order for Ratcliffe and his fellow owners to move forward with their development plans, the land at Ytri Hlíð, which is currently zoned as agricultural land, would need to be rezoned as a retail and service area. Per the proposal, the landowners say the fishing lodge and accompanying facilities and intended to strengthen tourism in the area and make it a more competitive destination on the local market. If approved, the fishing lodge would overlook Vesturárdalur valley, as well as the Krossavíkur and Smjörfjöll mountains.

In order for the proposed lodge and facilities to be usable, significant infrastructural development would also be required: a road to the property would need to be paved, power lines would have to be laid, and, in order to provide drinking water, a well would either need to be drilled or else a spring in a nearby village would need to be tapped for the purpose.

The public has the opportunity to comment on the proposal until September 3. The Vopnafjörður district office will also hold an open house on Monday to present the development plans.

Police May Now Issue Fines for Mask-Wearing Violations

face mask

Police may now fine individuals anywhere from ISK 10,000 – 100,000 [$74 – $737; €62 – €617] for not wearing a mask in a place where mask-wearing is required, Kjarninn reports. Newer, harsher fines for violations of social distancing and quarantine regulations went into effect on August 14.

Per the current regulations (in English, here), face masks must be worn:

  • On all international and domestic flights in Iceland.
  • On passenger ferries, if the 2-metre distance rule cannot be followed. (Note that there is no need for masks if passengers are inside their vehicles, on board the ferry.)
  • On other public transport if there are no measures taken to maintain the 2-metre distance between persons. It is especially important to use masks when travelling by coach from the airport after border screening and during longer travel in coaches. In city/local buses, however, where the journey normally lasts for less than 30 minutes, masks are not required. There primarily vulnerable persons should use a mask.
  • At services provided by hair salons, massage parlours, physical therapists, dentists, optometrists and visiting nurses.
  • In all other circumstances, numerical restrictions and the 2-metre physical distancing rule apply and face masks cannot replace these measures.

The new fining guidelines also allow for business operators and/or company representatives to be fined from ISK 100,000 – 500,000 [$737 – $3,683; €617 – €3,086] for not enforcing mask usage and/or a distance of two metres between clientele who do not share a home on their premises.

Fines remain in place for breaking quarantine and/or isolation regulations. Police may now also fine individuals for being present an event with more attendees than is legally allowed under current gathering restrictions.

As all of these fines are on a sliding scale, police are given discretion to decide how much to charge someone who breaks social distancing, mask, or quarantine regulations, depending on how serious the infraction is.

The first of such fines was levied in April. The individual in question was supposed to be in quarantine after returning to Iceland from abroad, but was discovered to be violating quarantine when he was arrested in downtown Reykjavík after acting belligerently and kicking cars. The man was fined ISK 50,000 [$368; €308].