Aldís Hafsteinsdóttir, the chairman of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) commented in Vikulokin on August 24th, when discussing the high wages of mayors and other municipal administrators, that being mayor was, in a sense, a lifestyle. With these words she was referring to the responsibility and the time which goes into handling one’s responsibilities. Gunnar Einarsson, mayor of Garðabær, the highest paid mayor of the country spoke along the same lines when he said in an interview on RÚV that he was at work twenty-four hours a day and shouldered a lot of responsibility.
Now we’ve heard this record play so often, about the responsibility and diligence, that the self-aggrandizement and self-justification no longer surprises us, but it is nevertheless interesting to examine the responses of the administrators to the discussion regarding wages, especially since they seem to be effective; you can be sure that the next news regarding the wages of the top-tier of local authorities will be of raises and, for justification purposes, it is a safe bet that there will be references to responsibilities and to these poor people having to always be on the clock.
And in light of concepts such as responsibility and diligence, it is also interesting to contemplate the irresponsibility of SÍS in the past summer when it decided against the deposit of 105.000 kronas to the members of Efling and other members within the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), which was meant to help low-wage earners get through the period of waiting for the wage increases which have already been negotiated in the private sector, and also the responsibility which the low-paid municipal workers certainly shoulder each day in their jobs. Responsibility which is ultimately so unappreciated that the people in power disregard it completely, while of course being fully aware that without the efforts of these working hands there would be no municipalities to run, no extravagant wages to apportion to themselves. That responsibility, which all inhabitants of the municipalities count on being shouldered by those who do the work, is nevertheless never appreciated.
Iceland now has 356.991 inhabitants, a small group of people in a rich country. But despite these obvious facts, the top tier of public administrators has precisely zero interest in distributing the wealth fairly and equally. Although these administrators have every opportunity to begin the worthy and necessary task of improving the wages and working conditions of low-wage earners, there seems to be no interest within their ranks in doing so. The lack of interest is extremely dispiriting but unfortunately also as predictable as the annual self-congratulations for responsibility and diligence.
Appreciating only the work oneself does as significant and important is a kind of lifestyle. Ignoring the public outcry over ridiculous wage inequality is kind of lifestyle – a kind of lifestyle to weather the criticism each year and then proceed as though nothing happened. Doing nothing to counter inequality is a kind of lifestyle, and so is actively contributing to it.
If it’s true that mayors are on the clock twenty-four hours a day, then isn’t it reasonable to expect them to take a few of those hours to use, putting themselves in the shoes of the low-wage earners who do their work diligently, often under great stress and in difficult conditions? Can they not be expected to spare a thought for the circumstances of those who keep the municipalities going with their work? Isn’t it ultimately reasonable and natural to expect them, with all their responsibility, to also start working for the people who do the work? Or is that perhaps a lifestyle which is inappropriate for the extravagantly paid mayors of Iceland?
Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairman of Efling