Icelandic society often presents us with a strange reality. There is no doubt that when compared with other countries, our island comes off quite well; we are a wealthy society in a land of plentiful natural resources. But all is not as it appears. Time after time, very serious cases come to the surface which have to do with the judgment and behavior of the most powerful people in society, who belong to the capitalist class or the political class or even both. This is completely intolerable, of course, and it is quite sad that the economic collapse and its consequences have not managed to enable the people of this country to live free from the amoral behavior of the wealthy and the ruling class. At the time of writing, I can only hope that the events which are now hitting the nation will cause real change to take place, for instance with regards to how the nation’s wealth is distributed among those who live here.
However, our amoral behavior is not only visible through the endless covetousness for wealth and power of those who inhabit the uppermost echelons of society but also with regards to the quality of life offered to working people. Time and time again we see workers and low-wage earners having to accept grotesque conditions, both in their personal lives and in the workplace, where people are forced to endure the intolerably overbearing behavior of employers.
We also witness the amorality and indifference in the discourse of powerful people. The most recent example of this is the words of Gissur Pétursson, the undersecretary of social affairs and children, in a discussion regarding the emigration and accommodations of people of foreign origin in the Icelandic labor market, not long ago.
It is easy and preferable to get rid of them! We have offered them Icelandic-courses but these people don’t feel like learning the language! Why then should we take care of them – for all we know they’re on their way out of the country!
These words describe the views of the undersecretary towards our immigrant members, the people who come here to live and work, who have arrived here during the past few years to power the boom and who have had to accept all manner of grotesque conditions; “loose employment terms” as they are called, lack of housing and a housing market which has been handed over to capitalists and then of course the wage-theft itself, the fact that hundreds of millions are literally stolen each year from workers and low-wage earners without any penalties being visited upon the perpetrator of the crime. The people who now must weather the season of unemployment which is a direct result of the extravagance of the capitalists, who of course are not made to shoulder any responsibility while the workforce has no choice; they are simply forced to accept the “laws” of the system of exploitation.
On the board of Efling sits a young woman who “encountered” having to work from morning to evening, not having any real vacation time and getting paid almost nothing. She discovered that the people who had treated her thus had done this for years; lured young people to join them from foreign countries and then treated them precisely as they pleased. This is the reality into which the words of Gissur fall and it is because of this reality that his words not only cause great consternation among those who listen, but also anger. However, this is not the first time that we in Efling witness the contempt which this man harbors towards workers of foreign origin. During a meeting which was held on February 11th this year, in an executive team tasked with welfare assistance for the sufferers of human trafficking, under the auspices of the ministry of social affairs, Gissur showed no interest in the residence permits of the sufferers and made no effort to ensure that they received assistance but instead wanted them to leave the country as soon as possible, which would render an investigation into the matter impossible.
It is ghastly to consider that a man with such views holds such an important office. Workers and low-wage earners have an absolute right to be treated with unconditional respect.
As the undersecretary of social affairs and the former managing director of the directorate of labor, Gissur holds great responsibility.
However, the person responsible for Gissur is his superior, Ásmundur Einar Daðason. I call on Ásmundur to shoulder this responsibility and see to it that his representative in charge of welfare matters in this country is truly a spokesperson for welfare and humanity, both in his words and his actions. All else is unacceptable!
Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir
chairman of Eflingar-union