Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chairman of Efling, discusses the Confederation of Icelandic Employers‘ (SA) opposition to eradicating criminal activity in the labor market in a powerful article in Morgunblaðið today.

Criminal Activity – A Benefit for Employers?

In January of 2019 news broke about the tragic conditions endured by Romanian workers who were brought to the country to work by a temporary staff rental company called Menn í vinnu. The workers sought restitution and Efling filed a lawsuit on their behalf. In light of this, the lawyer for the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA) rose up in defence in the media of both Menn í vinnu and Eldum rétt, another company accused of similar violations.

In December 2019, workers organized a sit in protest at City Park Hotel and Capital Hotels to force payment of unpaid wages. The workers were eventually paid their owed wages, but only after they were subjected to a litany of written threats and claims for damages. These threats came from a lawyer working for the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA).

On July 17 of this year, Icelandair laid off a group of its employees currently engaged in a wage dispute and who announced strike action against the company. Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, the managing director of SA, stepped forward in defense of these actions. It was only after the damage was done that  he „lamented“ this action in a statement and acknowledge that it violated trade union and labor laws.

In September 2020 SA published a statement on its website threatening termination of the current wage agreements. SA cited the government´s nonfulfillment of promises regarding indexed mortgages as grounds for terminating these agreements. This is despite a previous statement by SA in a promise to ASÍ and trade unions that the preconditions had not been broken.

In September and October 2020, both the chairman and the executive director of SA published articles in order to speak out against fines being introduced into Icelandic law as penalty for wage theft. In the winter of 2019-2020, SA took a committee under the oversight of the Minister of Social Affairs hostage. The purpose of this committee was to fulfill promises to workers regarding the measures against wage theft issued at the signing of the Quality of Life Agreement.

All of these cases are different, but they have one thing in common: the response by SA illustrates the attitude of their leadership towards the law, wage agreements, and truth and honesty in communication between parties in the Icelandic labor market.

Icelandic employers pay wages and respect rights in accordance with wage agreements as a result of the long struggle of workers in attaining these wages and rights. Most employers fo not force employees into illegal rental housing and then proceed to extort large sums of money for the housing. Most employers fo not terminate workers engaged in a wage dispute. Most employers appreciate the stability that long term wage agreements provide and do not discard them at the blink of an eye.

Most employers trust themselves to abide by established laws and collective bargaining agreements, in Efling´s experience, even if they may disagree with the trade unions on issues or would like to have wage agreements and labor law org organized in a different way.

Questions must be asked whether SA‘s defense against criminal activity and breach of contract by employers are done to protect the interests of employers and whether SA´s attitude represents the will of employers.

As it stands today, the cost of criminal activity and other offenses by dishonest employers are borne both directly and indirectly by all employers. Temporary staff rental agencies that engage in human trafficking and forced labor are disruptive to entire industries. Ultimately, the wage costs of wage theft are usually paid from the Wage Guarantee Fund, which all employers pay into. The war on the renewal of wage agreements and labor law waged by individual large companies ulitmately threatens all employers.

Employers, especially those who follow the rules, do not benefit from the fact that SA endorses and advocates for criminal activity and breaches of contract. It is in everybody‘s interest to eliminate this cancer. It remains a mystery why SA is fighting so hard in favor of it.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir. chairman of Efling

Published in Morgunblaðið 23.10.2020

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