At Höfði, the reception house used by the mayor of Reykjavík, there’s a big event coming.
White table-cloth has been laid on the long table in the west wing.
All the stops have been pulled out because city council chairman Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir and chief administrative officer Stefán Eiríksson are expecting important company.
Who are these guests who are so important that two of the City’s main administrators would seek a special meeting with them?
Well, the administrators of the City of Reykjavík made the time to hold a meeting with the Association of Women Business Leaders in Iceland
(Félagi kvenna í atvinnulífinu – FKA) at Höfði, after having met with the largest organization of financiers and employers this summer. The aim of the meetings is for “the municipal authorities and employers in Reykjavík to better understand each other’s mutual needs and expectations” according to an article written on the official website of Reykjavík under the headline: “Meeting held with the representatives of business”.
Yet again, the priorities of the political establishment are thrown into sharp relief. The administrators of the City of Reykjavík focus on the economic elite and greet its members with extravagance. The authors of this article, however, cannot remember having received a comparable offer, in spite of Efling having been embroiled in negotiations with the City since the spring, which have now been referred to the state mediator.
One of the most populous workplaces and “employers” of the country is the City of Reykjavík, which, among other things, runs a great number of the pre-schools which are often referred to as the basis for the great participation by women in the labor market in Iceland. In the city’s pre-schools, over 1000 members of Efling work, mostly women, low wage earning women, as according to the findings of a wage study done by Statistics Iceland the wages of unskilled pre-school staff are the lowest in Iceland. The fact is that the City of Reykjavík offers those whose occupation is the fundamental societal service of taking care of children shamefully low wages, wages which serve as a stark indicator regarding the systematic contempt for work traditionally done by women.
The City of Reykjavík has thus become guilty of perpetrating injustice against low-income women in Iceland. The fact of the gendered budget and program of activities and the fact that the political representatives running the City are avowed feminists has done little to better the lot of the low-income women who work for the City. Their role is only to do that which women have done for ages without proper recognition; there is nothing to indicate that the City of Reykjavík would seek to pay more than a pittance for access to the female work force.
We’re not going to pretend to be surprised by the priorities of Þórdís Lóa and her fellow municipal representatives. We are fully aware of how little interest those in power have in the existence and living conditions of low-income women in Iceland. We know that those in power are, for instance, quite unbothered by the fact that a growing number of low-income women end up disabled by the end of their working life, as outlined in a new report done by Kolbeinn H. Stefánsson for ÖBÍ.
But although we aren’t startled by these priorities, that doesn’t mean that we mean to act as though we don’t notice it. Quite the contrary; we will keep our eyes open and we are most certainly outraged. We aren’t invited over to Höfði for a chat but we have nevertheless knocked on the door of the City of Reykjavík with fair demands for decent wages and satisfactory working conditions. We will not be content with no one answering the door. We demand that the ruling class of Reykjavík open the door and admit that without the work of the members of Efling everyone, especially the business owners, would be in deep trouble.
We call on the top administrators of Reykjavík to examine their actions and turn their focus to providing their lowest paid employees with decent wages. Or do the members of the city’s elite, with their almost two million kronas per month, mean to continue acting as though the women who really keep everything running here are worthless, while the representatives of employers are treated like royalty in Höfði?
Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir is the chairman of Efling
Agnieszka Ewa Ziólkowska is the vice-chairman of Efling