Conditions in the Cleaning Sector Unacceptable, Survey Finds

cleaning equipment

Living conditions for those in the cleaning sector are unacceptable, according to a new report from Varða, the Labour Research Institute. Women and immigrants dominate the sector, facing significantly worse health and financial conditions than other workers, RÚV reports.

Far worse conditions than other jobs

On Wednesday, Varða released a report on the status and living conditions of those working in the cleaning sector. The study covered members of ASÍ and BSRB unions, with unequivocal results.

In an interview with RÚV, Kristín Heba Gísladóttir, Varða’s director, stated that the situation of workers employed in the cleaning sector is worse, even much worse, than those in other ASÍ and BSRB jobs, based on all metrics used in the survey, whether financial status, mental health, or physical and job-related strain.

Kristín observed that this group often faces rights violations in the labour market, adding that international studies had shown that the outsourcing of jobs negatively impacts the workers themselves; although many respondents work for private companies, the jobs often take place in public institutions, yet the workers are not considered part of these workplaces.

Women and immigrants dominate cleaning jobs

Kristín Heba also noted the high proportion of foreigners in this sector. “Cleaning is predominantly done by immigrants, with 78% being immigrants and 22% native-born.” Kirstín added that women composed a much higher percentage of workers in the cleaning sector: “Only about a quarter are men, meaning women and immigrants primarily sustain cleaning in our country.”

Varða presented the research results to the leadership of ASÍ and BSRB on Wednesday morning under the title “Take action.” Kristín Heba told RÚV that the title referred to those working in cleaning. “But it’s also a call from the labour movement to employers and authorities to take action and rectify this situation because the living conditions of those in cleaning are unacceptable.”

Why are there no trees in Iceland?

hekla forest project

The short answer: sheep. According to the earliest records of the settlement of Iceland, the island was forested everywhere between the highlands and the coast when the Norse first arrived. Often, these semi-historical accounts in the mediaeval sources have to be taken with a grain of salt, but this assessment has been backed up by modern science, which estimates that approximately 40% of the island was covered by birch forests prior to settlement.

Over time, the settlers cut down trees for charcoal, tools, houses, and ships. Because Iceland’s environment is relatively harsh, once trees were felled in large numbers, it was difficult for them to grow back.

Perhaps the largest impediment to reforestation, however, was sheep grazing. It has long been traditional in Iceland for farmers to let their sheep roam in highland pastures during the summer, and then to collect them in the fall. This sheep grazing caused immense damage to Icelandic forests, from which they are still recovering. To this day, most tree plantations in Iceland need to be fenced in, to prevent sheep from destroying young saplings.

Health Minister Pushes for Swift Regulations of Cosmetic Fillers

The Minister of Health, Willum Þór Þórsson, is pushing for regulations on the use of fillers in Iceland following concerns raised by the news programme Kompás. While the exact timeline remains uncertain, the Minister aims to have the regulations established this year, Vísir reports.

Hopes to implement regulations this year

The Minister of Health, Willum Þór Þórsson, is taking steps to implement regulations on the use of fillers in Iceland, aiming for clear restrictions by this year. This move comes after the investigative news programme Kompás highlighted the risks associated with the current lack of regulations on who can administer fillers.

As noted by Vísir, doctors have long advocated for such regulations, but their calls have gone unanswered. Yesterday, Minister Þórsson acknowledged the urgency, stating, “I have instructed the ministry to promptly utilise the regulatory authority found in the Medical Devices Act, alongside looking into the Health Professionals Act. The Directorate of Health would then oversee this, determining who is authorised to use these substances and ensuring they have the necessary expertise. That’s what’s missing.”

“Simultaneously,” the Minister added, “I’ve requested that we look at comprehensive legislation, similar to Sweden’s approach, though it might take longer.”

When asked about the specifics, the Minister couldn’t provide an exact date but emphasised the need for swift action. He hopes the regulations will be in place this year.

No Leads on Assault of Reykjavík Conference Attendee

The gathering began with a minute of silence for the events in Norway

An attendee of the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) conference was taken to the emergency department after being assaulted in downtown Reykjavík on Tuesday evening. The police are investigating the assault as a possible hate crime but are currently without substantial leads.

Other participants notably shaken

An attendee of the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) conference was assaulted in downtown Reykjavík on Tuesday evening and subsequently taken to the emergency department. Authorities were alerted and promptly arrived at the scene. The victim’s condition, as confirmed by the organisation on Wednesday, is stable.

A statement from the organisation noted that the incident had notably shaken those who attended the conference, which was co-hosted by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the National Queer Organisation. The event saw the participation of over a hundred delegates from leading LGBTQ+ organisations across the Nordic nations.

The organisation also highlighted the fact that it had recently found cause to heighten security measures at conferences such as these – and had ensured the presence of security personnel throughout the conference’s proceedings.

Investigated as possible hate crime

Daníel E. Arnarsson, Executive Director of the National Queer Organisation, told RÚV on Wednesday that the victim – while leaving the conference venue located in a hotel – had visible LGBTQ+ symbols on them.

“This is a delegate of an LGBTQ+ conference, associated with an LGBTQ+ organisation, who was assaulted in the heart of Reykjavik. It is essential for the police to consider the seriousness of this incident,” Daníel stated.

The police acknowledged on Wednesday that they had initiated an investigation into the assault. While it’s still in its preliminary phase, one focal point of their inquiry is determining whether this incident can be classified as a hate crime. As of now, the authorities confirmed that they have not arrested anyone in connection to the assault and are currently without substantial leads. However, they are in the process of analysing CCTV footage from the night in question.

Milestones in LGBTQ rights

The National Queer Association of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) was founded in 1978. Over the decades, it has not only played a role in advocating for the rights and acceptance of the queer community in the country but has also worked to promote LGBTQ+ visibility, education, and support services, solidifying Iceland’s reputation as one of the most progressive countries for queer rights globally.

Iceland has undergone significant legislative changes in regard to queer rights throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1940, the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships in 1996, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2010.

Record Population Growth Last Year – 400,000 Milestone in Sight

Locals and tourists enjoy the sunshine in Reykjavík's Austurvöllur square.

Iceland’s population rose by 11,500 in 2022, potentially reaching 400,000 this year, according to a report from the Housing and Construction Authority. The proportion of working immigrants in the national labour market has quadrupled since 2003.

On course to reach 400,000 by end of the year

Iceland’s population increased by 11,500 last year, marking the most significant growth since records began. According to a monthly report of the Housing and Construction Authority, this growth trend has continued in 2023; in the first six months of the year, the country’s population increased by 1.7%. If this trend continues, the increase this year will surpass last year’s, with Iceland’s population reaching 400,000 by year-end.

The report also notes that foreign nationals currently compose nearly 18% of the population or over 70,000 individuals. Furthermore, foreign nationals constitute about 30% of the age group between 26-36 years. The institution notes that, based on tax data, the proportion of working immigrants in the Icelandic labour market has quadrupled since 2003, rising from just over 5% to over 20% last year.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Katrín Ólafsdóttir, an associate professor at the University of Reykjavik, stated that since the tourism sector began its rapid growth, there had been a strong correlation between Iceland’s economic growth and the number of foreign nationals: “The correlation was much weaker in the years before, but the last ten years show a very strong link.”

Foreign nationals nearly 50% of the unemployed

While working immigrants in the Icelandic labour market have quadrupled since 2003, the proportion of foreign nationals among the country’s unemployed population has also seen a sharp increase in recent years, now reaching nearly 50%.

Speaking to RÚV, Unnur Sverrisdóttir, Head of the Directorate of Labour, expressed concerns about this trend, noting that various measures had been tried without the desired success. Unnur speculated that several factors may be contributing to the trend, including language proficiency and challenges related to childcare, especially for single mothers who might not have the same support system as native Icelanders.

Unnur also emphasised the need for a better understanding of the issue and highlighted potential gaps in educational opportunities for younger foreign nationals in Iceland, especially those who aren’t proficient in Icelandic.

Deep North Episode 45: Borrowed Crime

icelandic true crime

On May 26, 1982, sisters Yvette and Marie Luce Bahuaud arrived in Iceland from France. On August 15, after nearly three months of travelling, they came to the town of Djúpivogur in East Iceland. Having spent the night at a hotel, they planned to hitchhike to Skaftafell, a preservation area just south of the Vatnajökull glacier, which had become a national park in 1957. Their murder that night has proved to be one of the stranger episodes in Icelandic history, and we consider this tragic event in the wider context of the ever-growing true crime genre.

Read the story here.