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Without Foreign Workers, Slaughterhouses Face Staffing Shortages

Despite rising unemployment throughout Iceland, slaughterhouses throughout the country are having trouble staffing their facilities in advance of the annual slaughtering season, RÚV reports. Slaughterhouses have predominantly been staffed by foreign workers in recent years, but bringing in workers from abroad is more difficult now during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Iceland’s slaughtering season generally begins in early September and accordingly, slaughterhouses begin advertising for staff during the summer. Slauturfélag Suðurlands, which runs the largest abattoir in Iceland, expects that they will need to extend their season of operation; they are usually staffed by a large group of professional butchers from New Zealand during the slaughtering season but those workers cannot travel to Iceland this year. CEO Steinþór Skúlason says that it is proving difficult to find Icelanders to do this work.

Ágúst Torfi Hauksson, the operations manager at a slaughterhouse in Húsavík, North Iceland is experiencing similar staffing difficulties. He says 35 employees are still needed at his facility. He’d hoped that people who had been laid off from their jobs at the silicon plant in Bakki would apply and indeed, all nine of the former silicon plant employees who have applied for work at the Húsavík slaughterhouse have been given jobs. But that’s only nine applications from a total of 80 workers who lost their jobs.

Fjallalamb in Kópasker, Northeast Iceland still needs 20 employees. “It’s going a lot slower than in previous years because of this COVID situation,” remarked operations manager Víkingur Björnsson. “What I’m trying to do now, as best I can, is to get Icelanders or people who live in Iceland.” Víkingur hasn’t had much luck with this yet, however. “I’m a little surprised. There’s a fair amount of unemployment in the country. This is, of course, not long-term [work], just six weeks, but still.”

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