In Focus: The 2023 Women’s Strike

women's strike 2023

On October 24, 2023, thousands of people swarmed Arnarhóll hill in downtown Reykjavík, holding protesting signs, babies, and each other’s hands, turning the city centre into a historic spectacle. Iceland’s seventh Women’s Strike (Kvennaverkfall) had a much larger turnout than expected, with the crowd spilling out across Hverfisgata and Lækjargata streets. An estimated 70,000 to […]

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Does Iceland have many foreign residents? What are the wages and working conditions like for foreign workers?

reykjavík iceland esja

Yes, Iceland has a significant number of foreign residents. The latest figures from Statistics Iceland show that immigrants comprise around 18% of the total population of Iceland.

The Icelandic economy has grown quickly in the years following the 2008 banking collapse, largely driven by the tourism industry. However, given Iceland’s small population pool, the recent economic expansion is largely dependent on foreign labour.

Of Icelanders with a foreign background, Poles make up by far the largest group. As of 2022, some 20,896 were living in Iceland, or 34.2% of the total immigrant population. The second- and third-largest groups are comprised of people from Lithuania and Romania respectively.

Employment opportunities mean that Iceland's immigrant population is largely clustered around the capital region, though residents with a foreign background also make up a notable part of the Westfjords. One of the least-populated regions of Iceland, tour-related services have become a large part of this region's economy.


Though Iceland is an attractive destination for many, there are also realities to immigration.

For example, a 2018 study by the University of Akureyri found while the average monthly salary in that year for full-time workers was 721,000 ISK [$5,168; €4,727], 60% of immigrants made only 400,000 ISK [$2,866; €2,623] or less per month.

Besides statistics, there is of course also a subjective element to the immigrant experience. Iceland is a small community with a unique language. For some, this is a major attraction to life in Iceland, but for others, it can be alienating. Some may also find themselves working largely English-based jobs in the tourism and service sector, and never truly integrating to Icelandic society.

Unfortunately, there have also been increasing incidents of wage theft, in which employers withhold earnings from workers who may not be in a position to press their rights. Read about the rights of workers here, in English.

This is of course a large issue with many facets. Read our coverage of social issues, and check out our coverage of Iceland's largest immigrant population below.

Prospective immigrants to Iceland may also find this Ask Iceland Review helpful: How can I move to Iceland?

 

Deep North Episode 49: Women Look to the Future

Arnarhóll hill women's strike 2023

It’s not an exaggeration to call the most recent Women’s Strike historic. With some 70-100,000 women participating, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the strike attracted international media attention and injected fresh energy into feminist activism in Iceland. We take a look at our 1986 coverage of Women’s Day Off and consider how far we’ve come, and where we have yet to go.

Deep North Episode 44: Working it Out

work week iceland

A few years ago, Iceland instituted a four-day work week. It’s gone off without a hitch and everyone’s been happier since. At least that’s the story that has spread through foreign media outlets.

The truth is much more complex. Firstly, it’s not a four-day work week, but a 4.5-day work week. Secondly, it technically only applies to public service workers. Thirdly, although preliminary data shows the shortened work week has had many positive impacts, there are still many kinks to work out in its implementation. And when we examine those kinks, we begin to realise that long working hours are only one of the challenges faced by Iceland’s labour market – and that the shortened work week is only one solution of many that will be needed in the coming years.

Read the story here.

Working It Out

iceland work week

A few years ago, Iceland instituted a four-day work week. It’s gone off without a hitch and everyone’s been happier since. At least that’s the story that has spread through foreign media outlets. The truth is much more complex. Firstly, it’s not a four-day work week, but a 4.5-day work week. Secondly, it technically only applies […]

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1,000 BSRB Members on Strike in Preschools, Primary Schools

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

BSRB has begun its strike actions today as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

As of today, some 1,000 workers are on strike, with more expected in the coming days. BSRB is Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members. Approximately two-thirds of BSRB members are women.

Read more: BSRB Strike Action to Begin Monday

These actions affect, among others, staff in sports and primary schools in Kópavogur and Mosfellsbær, after-school programs in Mosfellsbær, preschools in Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes primary school.

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, says that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities must pay the same wages to BSRB union members as others in similar jobs. BSRB is demanding retroactive wage increases from January 1st, when the last collective agreement was still in effect. The negotiating committee has offered wage increases from April 1st.

Sonja says there is little to no progress in the negotiations, stating to RÚV: “The last meeting was on Friday. We have two agreements in the case, and they didn’t see fit to call for another meeting.”

She continued: “Local authorities pride themselves on equal opportunity actions and have a direct obligation to do so, as they have both job evaluations to ensure equal pay for equal work and pay equity certification.”

Affected schools have needed to cope with staffing shortages. Parents of affected schools have been informed of the shortages, with some parents of children who require special support opting to keep their children at home.

Next week, strike actions are planned in sports programmes and primary schools in Hafnarfjörður, Hveragerði, Árborg, Ölfus, and the Westman islands.

Rights of Fishermen Regularly Violated, According to Chairperson of Icelandic Seamen’s Association

fishing in Iceland

In a recent report by RÚV, Bergur Þorkelsson, chairperson of the Icelandic Seamen’s Association, states that the rights of seamen are regularly violated.

By law, seamen are allowed up to two months’ of wages if they fall ill or injured during their employment period. However, according to Bergur, “traditional” expectations in the fishing industry mean that it is often difficult for seamen to actually take the leave they are entitled to.

This was recently illustrated by the case of a seaman who lost his job after taking a sick leave, which he was legally entitled to, for mental health reasons.

Read more: Never Fewer Accidents at Sea

According to Bergur, the culture of the fishing industry in Iceland means that seamen are often stigmatized for taking their sick leave. In an industry that has traditionally been very dangerous, this is especially problematic, as seamen feeling able to take off when they are unwell is important for both the safety of the individual and crew. “This is a problem,” Bergur stated to RÚV. “Seamen are all on their own, and need to be tough guys who don’t bother anyone about anything. We get cases like this often. I haven’t seen anything about mental illness until this case, but it’s common for seamen to avoid applying for benefits for fear of losing their jobs.”

The violation of the legal rights of seamen is further complicated by the nature of their employment contracts. Because work in the fishing industry is seasonal, a seaman may not be directly let go because of illness. Instead, he may simply not be re-hired for the next season. This grey area allows fishing companies the ability to deny that they may be discriminating against seamen who are simply making use of their legal rights.

Many aspects of the Icelandic fishing industry are still very traditional. This is a problem, states Bergur, because in many cases, work contracts can be informal and verbal. Fishing companies may verbally promise fishermen to be re-hired, but when they spend some time ashore, they show up to work after several weeks and find they’ve been let go. In these cases, because the seaman are not even aware of their termination, they have not had the opportunity to look for employment elsewhere, which can severely undermine their job security.