The Women of Multicultural Ethnicity Network in Iceland (W.O.M.E.N.), released a statement yesterday objecting to comments made by Efling Union Chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir in an interview. Sólveig Anna stated that the demand for increased access to Icelandic language courses was coming from intellectual elites, and would not be a priority for Efling in the coming wage negotiations this fall. W.O.M.E.N. maintains that the demand for better language education comes from workers themselves.
Nearly 160 collective agreements expire this autumn in Iceland, representing around 100,000 workers. Efling is the second-largest union in the country, representing some 27,000 workers – 53% of whom are of foreign origin. In a column published by Vísir last week, Professor Emeritus of Icelandic Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson called on unions to demand Icelandic courses for workers of foreign origin during working hours, and for employers to bear the cost of the initiative.
Language education not high on list of demands
In response to Eiríkur’s column, Sólveig Anna stated that increasing access to Icelandic education for workers of foreign origin would not be high up on the list of demands the union would make in the upcoming negotiations. The Efling Union Chair stated that the focus of the negotiations would be securing a living wage and ensuring affordable housing for low-income workers.
“Of course, it’s just extremely strange that those who belong to some intellectual elite are going to put the responsibility on the trade unions of working class and low-wage workers who obviously have bigger and more important things to think about right now than protecting Iceland’s national language,” Sólveig Anna told RÚV.
Women of foreign origin say Icelandic education of vital importance
Immediately after the interview was published, W.O.M.E.N. released a statement objecting to Sólveig Anna’s comments. “We strongly object to the idea that the demand for Icelandic courses being provided by employees [sic] comes from educational elites,” the statement reads. “Reality is it comes in most cases directly from us. We certainly hope that the very unions fighting for equal wages and equal rights in the job market should understand the value of allowing us equal access to the Icelandic language in addition to the flexibility and support from our employers in learning it.”
The statement also points to a survey conducted by W.O.M.E.N. in 2021, which showed that an overwhelming number of respondents requested support for Icelandic language tuition, “as they felt it would have direct consequences for economic and societal growth. If not addressed, it would continue to have repercussions for women of foreign origin who experience inequality and a lack of access to upward mobility in the job market and in society.”