Guðjón S. Brjánsson, a member of parliament’s Welfare Committee, has requested that the committee is convened as soon as possible due to allegations of widespread abuse of foreign workers’ rights, broadcast in news program Kveikur yesterday. The program reported on examples of breaches of work regulations, pay disparity, and even labour trafficking foreign workers in Iceland are subject to. In a Facebook post, Guðjón stated that in his naivety, he had believed Icelanders were farther along on the way to an ethical job marked and that foreign workers had more rights and justice in their work.
According to Halldór Grönvold, COO of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, he is not surprised by the news. “Nothing there is surprising. [The program] had some good examples of the determined law-breaking operations that are tolerated in the Icelandic labour market. Unfortunately, there are many more examples,” Halldór told RÚV.
Demand for workers is high and employment service agencies have increased their operations in the past few years. Foreign workers in Iceland number around 25,000, more than ever. A case can be made that these are the people that keep the wheels of Iceland’s economy going and drive economic growth.
“It’s very common that these individuals’ rights are abused. Everything from classics like paying them less than they are owed to determined breaches of regulations such as disregarding worker safety rules, extortionate rent prices, and charging all sorts of unnecessary fees. The worst cases are cases of human trafficking, I’m sorry to say.” Halldór states and adds that society and authorities have ignored the situation. “There’s little political interest or understanding of these issues,” he continues. “Of course, there are honourable companies in Iceland, fortunately, but this is way too common. We’re not talking tens or hundreds but thousands of individuals who are being mistreated and violated.”
While Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, CEO of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, claims that a single infraction of workers’ rights is too many, he does not consider these examples demonstrative of conditions in the Icelandic labour market. Halldór Benjamín told RÚV, “What I gather from all this is that there are a few bad apples. The examples are ugly, and we condemn them with all our might. On the other hand, I think it’s important that we take a hard look at ourselves as a nation, no matter if it the authorities, employers or employees. We all need to do better to make sure infractions such as these won’t be tolerated.”