Efling Union, whose chair resigned earlier this month following allegations of workplace bullying, has now voted in its first chair of foreign origin. The new chairperson is Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska, previously vice-chair of the union. More than half of Efling’s members are of foreign origin, and Agnieszka told Kjarninn she is pleased that foreigners now have a representative from their ranks heading the union.
Efling is Iceland’s second-largest labour union, with around 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Efling’s chairperson since 2018, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, resigned from the position earlier this month following allegations of bullying from Efling employees. Since her appointment was announced, Angieszka has been the target of criticism on social media for her Icelandic language skills. Agnieszka understands Icelandic though she does not speak it, and says her Icelandic language ability will not be an issue in her position.
“First of all, most foreigners in Iceland work in low-wage jobs – and work among other foreigners who also do not speak Icelandic,” Agnieszka stated. “Secondly, I understand Icelandic and I believe that it is very important to make Icelandic society aware that foreigners are part of this society. We must have the right to participate in society – no matter how long we stay here. Even though we do not speak perfect Icelandic, we deserve to be participants here.”
Fighting for rights of low-wage workers
The new chair says her priorities will be the same as those of the former chair: fighting for the rights of low-wage workers. Agnieszka stated she would focus on resolving issues in the Efling office and making sure the union continues to provide necessary services to its members. “I have been a member of Efling for most of the time I have lived in Iceland. I know how important it is for members to get the services they deserve,” Agnieszka stated. “I see the chairmanship as a unifying symbol for members. Efling must be able to stand by them when they need it because low-wage earners are unable to hire a lawyer to fight for their rights. And believe me, employers sometimes go too far. That’s why it’s so important to keep the union going – that’s our goal.”
Agnieszka’s appointment is short-term: Efling Union will hold elections for a new board and chairperson before the end of March.