The chairman and vice-chairman of Efling have issued a statement regarding the comments of undersecretary Gissur Pétursson, about workers of foreign origin, stating that it is easy and preferable to get rid of them.

In a discussion panel in the festivity hall of the University of Iceland this past Friday, there was a discussion regarding emigration and the working conditions of people of foreign origin in the Icelandic labor market. The event was organized in connection with the stellar project Hreyfanleiki og þverþjóðleiki á Íslandi (Mobility and cross-nationality in Iceland) for which the organizers deserve appreciation. The discussion took place after an enlightening lecture from the Dutch sociologist Hein de Haas and the panel included scholars as well as representatives of labor and employers. Participants generally chose their words with care, except for the representative of the State.

Is the translation correct? Where am I? These were the questions pondered by Dovelyn Rannveig Mendoza, expert of policy formation in the field of emigration, after having heard the comments of Gissur Pétursson, undersecretary of social matters who attended on behalf of the Minister of Social Affairs and Children, Ásmundur Einar Daðason.

It was not only Dovelyn who could scarcely credit the comments and conduct of Gissurar during the meeting. The reason was that the comments were completely out of step with the basic premises of the discussion – that people of foreign origin who work in the Icelandic labor market are people, human beings, who are covered by the agreement most of us in this country agree on, of operating a welfare society.

The attitudes towards workers of foreign origin reflected in the comments may be described as follows:

It’s easy to get rid of them and that is a good thing! We have offered them Icelandic-classes but these people can’t be bothered to learn the language! Why should we nurture them – for all we know they are about to leave the country! 

Attitudes such as these are based on a lack of respect for people of foreign origin and are in keeping with the comments made in public by members of Miðflokkurinn. In connection with her experience of the matters of foreign workers in the Middle-East, Dovelyn Rannveig drew the parallel between the words of the undersecretary and the views of rulers of Jordania and the United Arab Emirates with regards to foreign workers in those countries.

The comments provoked foreboding and anger from the viewers and the panel’s participants. Hein de Haas addressed the undersecretary directly, highlighting the mistakes of other nations which have ignored and neglected foreign workers who pull their weight in the labor market and settle down in society.

Unfortunately, Efling has had to deal with serious cases where the rights of foreign workers have been brutally and systematically violated. As the undersecretary of social affairs and the previous director of the Directorate of Labor, Gissur holds great responsibility in this field. In dealing with these cases, the representatives of Efling have witnessed comments and conduct which are in accordance with the abovementioned comments, in which he makes light of the wellbeing of victims and prioritizes the possible deportation of workers over the resolution and conscientious investigation of the violations.

That which has been described here and also covered by Sabine Leskopf subsequent to Friday’s meeting indicates that the current undersecretary of social affairs should be disqualified from working on cases having to do with foreign workers. The Minister who appointed him to the position and is politically responsible, Ásmundur Einar Daðason, has answered queries by stating that he has not been properly informed of that which was said by his representative during the meeting.

The authors condemn the comments and conduct of the undersecretary, Gissur Pétursson, and call on Ásmundur Einar Daðason to assume responsibility in this matter.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairman of Eflingar – union
Agnieszka Ewa Ziolkowska, vice-chairman of Efling – union

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