Foreign workers abused by profit-seekers
The investigative journalism programme Kveikur, which returned to Icelandic television screens this week, lifted the lid on the abuse of non-Icelandic workers in the country. The programme spoke with people who had been brought to Iceland under false pretences, who had been cheated out of wages, paid leave, paid notice, and more; and those who had been made to live in poor conditions. Some had been made to work long hours for much lower wages than Icelanders doing the same jobs.
“None of this comes as a surprise. [The programme] shows some good examples of the persistent breaches that we see in the Icelandic workplace. There are, unfortunately, lots of other examples too,” says Halldór Grönvald, the deputy director of ASÍ, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour.
The demand for new employees is high in Iceland, and employment agencies have been gaining ground in recent years. There are in the region of 25,000 foreigners working in Iceland, which is more than ever before.
It is possible to claim that these people are the ones who are keeping the wheels turning and fuelling continued economic growth in Iceland.
“It is very common for these people’s employment rights to be abused. Everything from not paying them enough—the old classic—up to very focused operations that disregard health & safety rules, overcharge for accommodation and take all sorts of charges from people. The worst cases are out-and-out slavery, regrettably,” Halldór says.
Society and the authorities have closed their eyes to this situation, He says.
“There is little political will or understanding of the issue. And that naturally bleeds into the whole system and then to society at large, who then somehow close their eyes to this illegal activity. Of course there are respectful companies in Iceland, I’m pleased to say, but this sort of thing is way too common. It is a bad work culture that first arrived with foreign companies and which Icelandic companies have been emulating. We’re not talking about dozens: we’re talking about hundreds, about thousands, of individuals who are being mistreated and are actually victims of crime.”
This week’s edition of Kveikur is now available with English subtitles. The programme is also available with Polish subtitles.
Kveikur w polskiej wersji językowej.