Why is it like this?

Why is it like this?

Testimonies show that breaches of foreign workers’ rights are widespread in the Icelandic labor market. Why?

Preying on precarious workers

thoughtful man using smartphone on street

Lack of information, playing on the fact that foreign workers do not know well the system

Workers accepting poor working conditions because they are still better than in their home country, or because of fear of more precarity

Lack of legal consequences

judgement scale and gavel in judge office

There are no fines for wage-thefts: only long legal processes with limited success.

The worst that can happen to an employer is that they are forced to pay the worker the wage they are owed.

At will employment: workers can be fired for any reasons

back view of a person in orange jacket standing near the snow covered ground

Aggravating factor:

Isolation in the countryside where job and accomodation often go together. Higher risk of precarity and abuse.

Weak reactions from unions

In their testimonies, workers expressed that they were unsatisfied with how their union handled their case.

diverse coworkers shaking hands after meeting

Unions often encourage workers to settle their cases for less than the money owed in order to receive money sooner and to avoid a long and costly court case.

Unions often encourage workers who have been harassed or abused to simply leave their workplace, while the workplace is left dangerous for future workers.


The current legal framework in Iceland encourages breaches of workers’ rights due to lack of consequences. For this reason, breaches have become endemic. What can be done?

crop man paying with american dollars
  • Unions could pay the workers their lost wages and engage in the lawsuit to recover the money they paid to their union member.
  • Unions could be making the well-being of their workers who was harmed their primary priority. Unions should force workplaces to change to be safe and harassment-free rather than encouraging workers to change jobs.
woman in blue suit jacket
brown wooden gavel on brown wooden table
  • Though sanctions had been part of the government promises of the Quality of Life Collective Agreement from 2019, none have been implemented at the time of this writing. Implementation of sanctions should be one of the major demands of the negotiations for the next collective agreement.
  • An end to at-will employment should be a major goal of the unions if they want to be able ot protect workers from tageted firings based on knowledge of their rights, connection to their union or being part of a vulnerable class of people.
group of men forming a libe
  • Empasizing “Know you rights” campaign in a system which fails to protect these rights on an endemic level is little more than engaging in political theater. “Know your rights” campaigns are only one tool: unions should also focus on fighting for legal, structural changes that will protect workers and focus on educating workers on how to organize with their co-workers.

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