Selecting a cause – Statement regarding the piece written by Þórarinn H. Ævarsson

29. 01, 2021

Today, January 28th, there was a piece in Morgunblaðið by Þórarinn H. Ævarsson, owner of the pizzeria called Spaðinn. In it, Þórarinn discusses wage theft in the Icelandic labor market and accuses Efling – union of “numerical gymnastics” which he calls, in the title of the piece, “misleading and toxic.The hyperbole in Þórarinn’s piece is not supported by the concrete facts therein. All figures published by Efling and placed in context with the scope of wage theft in the Icelandic labor market are empirical figures from the wage claims issued by the union. Such wage claims are issued with reference to the collective agreements which employers have signed and are never issued unless there is written data available, such as an employment contract, payslips, receipts fpr the payment of wages and recorded working hours. A claim issued by Efling for unpaid wages usually amounts to 380 to 490 thousand.Usually, the legitimacy of these claims is undisputed and they are most often paid in the end, but unfortunately this often occurs only after months, even years of judicial review, or in the case of bankruptcies, the work of the official reviewer of the estate. The justice system has unfortunately proved ineffectual in the face of this problem and, therefore, fines should have been implemented a long time ago to create a deterrence against such practices, albeit in such a way as to enable employers to appeal any disagreements on the issues to a judge, as is the case now. There are precedents for such an arrangement, in this country as well as abroad.Wage theft is therefore a real problem, which entails vicious injustice perpetrated against the wage earners against whom it is perpetrated, as well as a gross disrespect towards all those who negotiate collective agreements.   It is strange that a prolific employer such as Þórarinn should put pen tp paper to defend this practice and justify it with what could best be described, in his own words, as numerical gymnastics.The wage claims issued by Efling during the period from 2015 to the end of the year 2019 are 2.349 in total and the total sum which they cover is over a billion kronas. The sum has grown from one year to the next, from just under 100 million in 2015 to just under 350 million in 2019. Given the number of Efling members and the number of wage claims, one may surmise that the likelihood of having suffered wage theft in the open labor market during that five year period is about 1 in 10.The wage claims issued by the unions don’t, however, cover the total scope of wage theft, any more than the amount of narcotics confiscated by the police covers the total amount of narcotics out there. An unmeasured number of workers in Iceland, for some reason, never issues a claim because of unpaid wages. However, an ever-growing number and sum total clearly indicate a fast growing problem.Wage theft is not just the problem of wage earners against whom it is perpetrated, but also the problem of employers. Unfortunately, the claims are often paid out by the wage guarantee fund, which ia funded by all employers, including the ones whose business is run honestly.Wage thieves save themselves wage costs and are therefore able to underbid their honest competitors in tenders and in pricing on products and services. Efling has received many tips from employers who are angry because of this state of affairs which, sadly, has become ubiquitous in certain industries.It’s regrettable that Þórarinn should decide not to defend the interests of those employers who honor the valid agreements, opting instead to defend behavior which undermines honesty in the labor market. He should think twice about the cause which he selects.