Professor Emeritus Speaks to Need for Better Icelandic Education

Icelandic language education course

Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor Emeritus at Háskóli Íslands, has recently expressed the need for better Icelandic education in an interview with Vísir.

Eiríkur stated that foreign labour is projected to play a larger role in Iceland’s economy in the coming years, and that it is imperative to provide immigrants with more opportunities to learn Icelandic.

Specifically, he fears that Iceland’s workforce may split into an Icelandic-speaking overclass with an English-speaking underclass in the service, restaurant, and hotel industries.

“I think it’s quite clear that if we want to continue the Icelandic language, then we have to do something,” Eiríkur stated.

Additionally, he called for more and better teaching materials and courses to be offered to foreign workers. “It must be possible for people to study Icelandic during working hours and so on,” he said.

He has been critical of Icelandic prescriptivists in the past, saying that an image of a pristine Icelandic language that does not change with the times and Iceland’s shifting demographics cannot be continued. Eiríkur has also called for the need for more openness in the Icelandic language community, saying that it is too easy for foreigners to revert to English, and not integrate themselves into life in Iceland.

Eiríkur is also active as the moderator of a popular Facebook page, Málspjall, in which Icelanders discuss grammar, innovation, and other current issues with the Icelandic language and its evolution.

On Icelandic language education and policy, read more of our coverage here.

Immigrant Proportion Grows Within Icelandic Labour Market

Immigrants were on average 19.2% of the total number of employed in Iceland in the first quarter of 2019, according to newly-released data from Statistics Iceland. The number of employed immigrants between 16 and 74 years of age was 36,844, of 192,232 total individuals employed. Though immigrants accounted for nearly one fifth of the labour market in the first quarter of 2019, they account for only 12.7% of the population.

Since the first quarter of 2013, the proportion of immigrants among those employed has grown in all regions of the country. The ratio was highest in the Southwest and the Westfjords in the first quarter of this year, while it was lowest in the Northwest.

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The data is part of a new publication of register based on information on those employed in the Icelandic labour market. Statistics Iceland categorises employees not born in Iceland and whose parents and grandparents are not born in Iceland as immigrants. Others are considered to have an Icelandic background.

Higher Unemployment and Fewer Foreign Workers Expected

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1555061391741{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Recent data published by Statistics Iceland shows that during the first three months of the year, there were 3,500 vacant jobs on the Icelandic labour market. This puts the country’s job vacancy rate at 1.5% during the first quarter of 2019. Other recent employment data shows a gender gap in full-time employment rates, and suggests that in the near future, unemployment is likely to rise and fewer foreign nationals will be seeking work in Iceland.

Fewer women in full-time positions than men

As Kjarninn reports, Statistics Iceland has been collecting data on the labour market in Iceland since 2003, but this is the first time that data on job vacancies has been made public. The survey has been conducted in collaboration with rest of the European Economic Area (EEA) in order to allow for job vacancy comparisons between European countries. As a point of reference, the job vacancy rate for EU countries in the last quarter of 2018 was, on average, 2.3%. The highest rate was in the Czech Republic, at 6%, and the lowest was in Greece, at .4%.

Upon examining data for the end of the fourth quarter in 2018, Kjarninn found that on average, there were 203,700 people between the ages of 16 to 74 on the Icelandic labour market. Of these, 198,900 were working, while 4,900 people were unemployed and seeking jobs. Job market participation was at 80%, the employment rate was 78.6%, and the unemployment rate was 2.4%. The number of working individuals increased by 4,500 between 2017 and 2018, while the employment rate dropped by half a percentage point.

The data also showed that there were 148,500 people working full-time at the end of the fourth quarter of 2018, or 74.7%. At the same time, 50,400 people, or 25.3%, were only employed part-time. The number of people in full-time positions increased by 4,800 people, while the number of people in part-time positions remained unchanged. There was a considerable gender divide when it came to full-time employment: 62.3% of working women were employed full time, versus 88.6% of working men.

Unemployment projected to rise

Unemployment was highest among workers aged 16 to 24 at the end of the fourth quarter in 2018, or 5.3%. If education levels are examined, people who have only completed a primary education had a 4.3% unemployment rate. Individuals who have completed vocational training or upper secondary education had an unemployment rate of 2.1%; university graduates had a 1.3% unemployment rate. There was no difference in the unemployment rates in and outside the capital area.

Per Statistics Iceland data, unemployment has been relatively stable for the last two years, although the Directorate of Labour has seen an increase in the number of people registered for unemployment in the last few months.

In February 2019, unemployment reached 3.1%, versus 2.1% in February 2018. According to the Directorate of Labour, following the WOW air bankruptcy in March 2019, 1,600 people were laid off and more are expected. If all of these people go on unemployment, the overall unemployment rate would immediately jump to 4%. Landsbankinn, which also keeps employment data, says that it is not currently possible to fully predict employment trends in the coming months, but says that unemployment will doubtlessly increase.

Fewer Foreign Workers Expected

The percentage of foreigners living and working in Iceland has never been higher than it was in 2018, when immigrants made up 12.6% of the population. From 2017 to 2018, 13,930 foreigners moved to Iceland, which was just under a 46% increase of foreign nationals in Iceland. This increase is credited to the booming tourism industry and availability of jobs in the tourism, service, and construction sectors.

As the economy begins to cool, however, the number of foreign nationals coming to work in Iceland appears to be going down as well. According to Statistics Iceland data, 820 foreign nationals moved to Iceland in the first two months of 2019, versus 1,620 foreign nationals who moved to the country in the first two months of 2018. This suggests that there will be fewer foreigners moving to Iceland in at least the first quarter of the year, if not the whole year overall.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Tourism, Construction Bring Increased Human Trafficking

“It is high time that authorities do their duty to eradicate human trafficking as the patience of those who see the catastrophic consequences of trafficking is long gone,” reads the resolution of a directors’ meeting of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS). The federation held a meeting last Friday, where they discussed topics such as social dumping and organised crime on the Icelandic labour market.

SGS is a federation of 19 trade unions in the private sector and part of the public sector in Iceland. The federation’s directors say one consequence of rapid growth in the tourism and construction industries is an increase in social dumping in the labour market and direct abuse of people who come to Iceland to work.

The term “social dumping” describes the practice of employers to use cheaper labour than is legally available, for example by underpaying migrant workers or hiring volunteers instead of paid employees. According to Icelandic law, unpaid work is only justified in the case of humanitarian or relief organizations, work related to nature conservation, or work that would not be carried out otherwise.

The directors say human trafficking is one of the worst forms of social dumping and that unions have been waiting for a government-led action plan to address the issue for two years. “Despite the international fight against trafficking, the problem has grown in recent years and will probably continue to grow,” reads SGS’s website. “It is necessary for unions, authorities, and the public to be aware of the growing threat of human trafficking.”