Article by Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairman of Efling and Agnieszka Ewa Ziólkowska, vice-chairman of Efling.

In the past few years, a lot of focus has gone into raising awareness regarding the wage difference between men and women in Iceland. That is a just concern. On the other hand, those who control the discourse in society have paid almost no attention to the multifaceted violations perpetrated against foreign born low-wage employees by their employers, although that is a clear case of systematic discrimination.

A report published recently by ASÍ, which bears the title: What are foreigners faced with in the Icelandic labor market? demonstrates beyond all doubt that which we have long been aware of: In Iceland there are at least two labor markets. One for educated middle-income people, a labor market where wage theft and ill treatment are rare occurrences. Then there is a completely different one for the low-wage earners, especially those who come from foreign countries.

The report clearly states that half of the wage claims filed by the four largest member unions of ASÍ are filed on behalf of immigrants, who nevertheless number only 19% of all the workers in the country.

Foreigners in the Icelandic labor market are not only more likely to be subjected to wage theft and prevented from exercising their rights to sick-leave and vacation time, a right for which the workers of previous decades struggled fiercely. In addition to that monstrous behavior by employers there is disrespectful treatment, threats and the use of access to housing to force compliance. We have also seen with our own eyes how union representatives of foreign origin have had to put up with having their job security threatened by bosses and employers who cannot stand the struggle of these union representatives for their own rights and those of their coworkers.

Ill treatment and dishonesty towards foreigners and other low-wage earners is a stain upon Icelandic society. But of course, this is precisely what is to be expected – that those who hold the least power in society should be victimized most by systematic injustice. Justice and fairness are values which rapidly lose ground when the right of the strong to profit is prioritized above all other considerations. The worship of profit which has been allowed to pervade Icelandic society has real and serious consequences for working people and it is past time that we all start facing that fact.

We demand that collective agreements be respected by all in the Icelandic labor market and that the government immediately make good on its promises from last and institute stricter punishments so that people will cease to be able to get away with stealing wages from workers just like that. The fact is that this is the current situation.

We also realize that the only long-term solution is for us, workers and low-wage earners to stand together, no matter where we come from, and show that we are serious when we say that we mean to realize the changes which we want to see. No one can deny that Icelandic society is kept up by our labor and we who live on selling access to our labor know that solidarity is our sharpest weapon. By standing together, wherever we come from in the world, we best insure that our collective rights are respected.

Article published in Fréttablaðið 19.09.2019

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