Efling sends its heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the fire in Bræðraborgarstígur 1 on June 25. It also wishes a speedy recovery to those who were hurt.
We have confirmed that two of the three who died were members in Efling, foreign workers who came here in pursuit of employment. Here, they were entrapped by individuals who provided them with dangerous accommodation in unacceptable conditions.
We await the result of the police’s investigation, but must put the fire in a greater perspective, that of the treatment which greets foreign workers in Iceland. The illegalities and negligence they are faced with have been made clear repeatedly, both in labour rights and accommodation.
A detailed report on the condition of Bræðraborgarstígur 1 was published in Stundin five years ago. Stundin also reported on large numbers of people, including children, living in houses not meant for human accommodation in January 2019. At RÚV, Kveikur also spoke of the life of poor people, some of whom also lived in such quarters, in March 2020. Kveikur had previously reported on the rights of foreign labourers at temp agencies being broken in October 2018.
Efling discussed the abusive combination of employment and rent in negotiations with the employers’ association, SA, in 2018-19. A clear demand was made for a much stricter punitive framework, including fines, against breaking the collective agreement. This was concluded by the government promising to improve the labour legislation in its document on government support for the 2019 collective agreements (items 22, 25 and 26). These promises have not been fulfilled and according to information from ASÍ, the employers’ association is putting up strong resistance to them.
Efling demands that the minister for social affairs and the government immediately fulfil their promise to act on irregularities in the labour market, including their promise to legislate fines against collective agreement breaches and other penalties.
Efling demands that all public institutions which oversee the health and safety of the public show the requisite vigilance and take the initiative to intervene, rather than showing indifference and negligence when it comes to low-wage foreign workers.
Efling demands that the life, health and safety of all workers be duly respected and that systemic discrimination against foreign workers be ended.
We also want to make clear that the service of the union is available for all members who suffered as a result of the fire.
“I am heartbroken,” says Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, head of Efling. “In my two years of work at the union I’ve heard about wage theft, exploitation, abuse and disgusting treatment. ‘The best labour market in the world’ is nothing but a nightmare to many of our foreign members. I demand that we stop having to suffer the indifference of those who have power over our members’ lives, those who most of all need improvement of their condition. This terrible tragedy must have real consequences. I have no words to describe this country if that doesn’t happen.”