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Cases of “Modern Slavery” Among Foreign Workers

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Cases of “Modern Slavery” Among Foreign Workers

Reykjavík harbor

From Reykjavík harbor. Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

Terms offered to some foreign workers in Iceland are unacceptable, according to the head of the Icelandic Union of Marine Engineers and Metal Technicians, RÚV reports.

After the union was told of Romanians working here, the Directorate of Labor was asked to demand a job contract. The contract of one of the Romanians was then sent to the union for review. Halldór Grönvold, assistant CEO of the Icelandic Federation of Labor wrote a report about the contract, which now has been forwarded to the Directorate of Labor. The words “serious infringement” frequently appear in the report.

Guðmundur Ragnarsson, head of the Directorate of Labor, says the violations were severe. Hardly anything in the contract follows Icelandic law and regulations, he claims, regarding what conditions must met to hire a person like this. “I would just call this modern slavery. Make sure the individual has no rights whatsoever.”

The worker in question arrived here through a company or employment agency in Romania and works here for an Icelandic company. Guðmundur claims he knows of others working with a similar contract. Day rate is paid for twelve hours a day, and the hourly rate is EUR 10 (USD 11.20) for a machine operator. This is about ISK 400 to 500 (USD 3.12-3.90, EUR 2.79-3.48) lower than labor agreements specify. Guðmundur adds it’s not even clear whether the man is an employee or a contractor. If he’s a contractor, his terms are much worse.

The Icelandic Federation of Labor sent a letter to the Directorate of Labor, urging the latter to insist the Romanian company fix the contract, or write a new one in accordance with labor agreements, or else be subject to daily fines.

The current agreement specifies that the man may not work directly for the Icelandic company during the next five years without approval from the Romanian hiring agency. If he does, he must pay a fine of USD 25,000 (EUR 22,300).

Guðmundur says foreign workers are not always registered at the Directorate of Labor, although they should be, but that’s being improved. “There could be 200-300 people working here without our knowledge,” he suggests. “It’s our duty as citizens to put a halt to this.”

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