Wage theft – a blight on the Icelandic labour market

Efling has started a campaign to push for punishments for wage theft. Wage theft is an increasing problem in the Icelandic labour market and hits the lowest paid the hardest. The total claims Efling sent on behalf of its members for unpaid wages total one billion kr over the last five years. Wage theft is an even larger problem than these numbers indicate, since other unions also make claims on behalf of their members. Many workers also fear being laid off if they come forward and demand their full wages.Ever more workers seek the assistance of unions in reclaiming unpaid wages from their employers. The number of claims sent by Efling staff on behalf of its members has increased from 200 to 700 in the last five years. The amount claimed has increased as well, and was 345 million kr last year. Individual claims are normally between 380 to 490 thousand kr and can take a long time to be repaid. Meanwhile, the worker suffers the attendant damage of being unable to provide for themself or fulfil their obligations, such as rent payments.No fine or compensation is added to wage claims, therefore employers have no incentive to fix unpaid wages for others than those who come forward and make a claim. The only way to exert pressure in these cases is to sue the employer, but even then the compensation is limited to legal costs and interest. Efling demands that the fine for wage theft amount to at least 100% of the original claim. A lower fine would simply allow further theft by employers from the workers’ pockets.Neither wage theft nor other breaches against the basic conditions of workers are punishable in Icelandic law, even though there are examples of fines specified in collective agreements. For instance, fisheries can be fined close to 600 thousand kr for unpaid wages according to their collective agreement. Efling demanded similar clauses in its negotiations with SA in 2018-19. The government promised to put fines for wage theft into law in its statement on support for the collective agreements. No sign can be seen of the promise being upheld, despite repeated demands for it.At the same time, the government has put into law various other fines, for instance a sixtyfold fine on strætó passengers who don’t pay for their ride.Efling demands that the government stand by its promise, to stop employers continuing to reach into the pockets of Iceland’s lowest paid workers.Further information about this campaign can be found here.