Child Support Collection Centre Fined for Gendered Pay Discrimination

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Child Support Collection Centre, a public agency responsible for collecting child support payments from parents, has been under scrutiny for its management practices for years, RÚV reports.

Last week, the municipality collection agency in Iceland was ordered to pay a woman ISK 19 million [$140,000, €127,000] in compensation for significant gender-based wage discrimination. This was confirmed by Aldís Hilmarsdóttir, the agency’s chairperson. Over a 40-month period, the agency paid the woman almost ISK 500,000 less in monthly wages than a male colleague in a comparable position, without any legitimate reason. Of the total compensation, ISK 18 million was for wage discrimination and ISK 1 million for damages.

Recently, the agency has undergone a significant overhaul, with staff being fired, former executives being investigated by the prosecutor’s office, searches and arrests being made, and the Icelandic National Audit Office recommending significant changes to its operations. The agency has approximately 20 employees working in Reykjavik and Ísafjörður.

Since its establishment over a century ago, the Child Support Collection Centre’s main purpose has been to collect child support payments from parents, primarily fathers. The Icelandic National Audit Office and others have recommended that this function be transferred to the state, stating that it is unnecessary to maintain an entire agency with a large number of employees solely to collect child support. In addition to this issue, the management practices of the centre have also been questioned.

An audit of the agency’s operations was requested by the government as part of a restructuring of child support collection. The investigation uncovered several irregularities, including financial mismanagement, lack of proper accounting, and inadequate record-keeping. The audit also revealed that the centre’s revenues come primarily from late payment fees, with almost 80% of its income being derived from such fees. The agency suffered losses of ISK 100 million [$740,000, €670,000] in 2021 and ISK 120 million in 2020, despite its revenues being around ISK 270 million in 2021.

It remains to be seen how the government will respond to these recommendations and whether the agency’s operations will be transferred to the state.

 

Damning Report on Iceland’s Fish Farming Industry

fish farming iceland

The administration and supervision of open-net fish farming in Iceland are weak and fragmented, according to a newly-released report from the Icelandic National Audit Office (INAO). The Minister of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture says fish farming regulations are an unclear patchwork and that the government will act on the report’s findings. RÚV reported first.

Rapid development with little oversight

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Food, Fisheries, and Agriculture and was presented to the Constitutional and Supervisory Committee yesterday. It paints a dark picture of the administration and supervision of the fish farming industry, which has grown rapidly in Iceland over the past decade. For example, changes in fish farming legislation that were intended to promote the growth and development of the sector, have not been followed up by strengthening its administration and supervision.

Consolidation of ownership, directionless development, and operation of open-net sea pens have become established in areas without much discussion or direct action on the part of the government. Farming areas have been allocated for the long term free of charge, and there are examples of fish farming zones overlapping with sailing routes, protected areas for telecommunications and electricity cables, and obstructing navigational lighthouses.

According to the INAO report, monitoring of the sector needs to be strengthened. The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute has pointed out that it does not have the resources required to define fish farming zones. The report says that the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) did not consider additional monitoring necessary despite uncovering serious and even repeated deviations from existing regulations.

Open-net salmon farms dominate industry

Open-net fish farming in Icelandic waters has grown more than tenfold between 2014 and 2021. Yearly production rose from under 4,000 tonnes to nearly 45,000 tonnes over this period. More than 99% of that production was farmed salmon.

The export value of agricultural products in 2021 was more than ISK 36 billion [$254 million; 237 million]. Most of that figure, or 76%, was farmed salmon, according to RÚV. The aquaculture industry has played a role in supporting development in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, but the largest fish farming companies in Iceland are Norwegian-owned.

Legislation will take time to amend

“It is quite clear that the regulatory framework around this is a patchwork, is unclear, ineffective, and so on,” stated Minister of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir. “We’ve been chasing an industry that has grown very quickly.” Svandís stated that it was unlikely changes to legislation would go through this session as they require considerable preparation, but that there were many suggestions in the report the government would act on “immediately.”

Long Wait Times for Mental Health Services: Report

Landspítali national hospital

The demand and need for mental health services has been growing in Iceland each year. The wait times for services are too long and not in line with government aims, a new report from the Icelandic National Audit Office indicates. According to the report, mental health services need to be better coordinated so that fewer people fall through the cracks in the system.

“Gray areas where individuals end up between services and do not receive the appropriate services need to be eliminated,” the report states. “Many of these areas are well known, but attempts to eliminate them have not been successful.”

Staffing is a challenge

One of the challenges the report pointed out was a need to ensure a sufficient supply of qualified staff in mental health services, an issue that must be addressed by examining wages, working conditions, and housing issues. Ensuring study programs and residencies is also key in counteracting the shortage within specific mental health professions, according to the report.

Equalising access is important

When it comes to ensuring people have equal and timely access to mental health services, improvements are needed. The report’s authors suggest such issues could be addressed by concluding agreements with self-employed psychiatrists and psychologists and by ensuring services are available in languages other than Icelandic.

The National Audit Office also points out that many mental health teams currently operating within the public healthcare system only have temporary funding. Permanent funding would ensure they could continue their work, while ensuring a social services representative on such teams would help better coordinate health and social services.