The rights of foreign wage-earners most frequently violated – the largest claims in the travel industry and construction work

In the past few years there has been fast economic growth in Iceland. Research recently done by ASÍ via surveys and wage claims issued by unions shows that, concurrent to this development, marginalization and rights violations have been on the increase in the Icelandic labor market. The unions are faced with more numerous and more serious cases of wage theft and collective agreement violations than before. The violations seem to be mostly perpetrated against groups less likely to be cognizant of their rights, i.e. foreign workers, young people and individuals with low wages. There are no penalties for violations of this kind, which ASÍ considers unacceptable.The main findings of the research are as follows:

  • Wage claims for wage theft and violations of collective agreements number in the hundreds of millions each year.
  • Four of the member unions of ASÍ issued 768 wage claims in 2018 for a total of 450 million kronas, with a median sum of 262.534 kronas.
  • Over half of all the claims issued by the unions are drafted on behalf of foreign workers. About 19% of wage earners in the Icelandic labor market are of foreign origin.
  • About half of all claims come from the hotel-, restaurant- and travel-industries but the highest wage claims are made against companies in the construction industry.
  • The findings of the Gallup survey match the wage claims of the unions and indicate that rights violations are mostly perpetrated against foreign workers and young people, with lower wages and and on irregular employment terms as well as in part-time work.
  • Research into the wage claims and the survey indicate that the violations mostly consist of non-payment of wages, overtime pay and various infractions.
  • For most wage-earners, especially for those who have seniority and higher wages, rights violations almost never occur.

The violations of the rights of foreign wage earners and young people are a serious malignancy in the Icelandic labor market, which must be excised by any means possible. The examples do not only number in the tens or hundreds. The violations affect thousands of individuals. These fellow workers of ours should enjoy wages and other rights equal to others in the labor market. It is in the best interest of society. In this respect, the government and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise hold great responsibility.

  • Legislation and regulations must be improved. Stringent penalties and fines for wage theft and other violations of workers’ rights must be put into law.
  • The flow of information, supervision in the labor market and follow-up on rights violations need to be enhanced. Cooperation and collaboration between government agencies and labor and employers must be systematically enhanced with a coordinated outreach effort.
  • Support of the sufferers of rights violations. It must be insured that the individuals whose rights are violated are able to seek redress with the aid of the labor movement and society as a whole and that they are safe and secure.

During collective agreement negotiations in the spring of 2019, the Icelandic government promised that several measures would be taken to counter wage theft and rights violations in the labor market. These promises were based on the demands and policies of the labor movement. There is a plan of action but the task currently before us is to follow through on the declaration and begin the full implementation during the next few months so that the steps taken will be precise and decisive in the elimination of rights violations in the labor market.The report can be further studied on the website of ASÍ