Government bill is a slap in the face of wage theft victims

9. 02, 2021

The Icelandic government has gone back on its promise to provide judicial reform on behalf of the victims of wage theft and violations in the labor market and put forth useless ideas for legislation which ignores the considerations of the labor movement.In a bill put forth by Ásmundur Einar Daðason, minister of social affairs and children, the victims of wage theft are required to risk their own employment before they are granted a hearing by the directorate of labor in a new and immensely complicated court procedure, where the victim is at a disadvantage at every step. The victims are, among other things, required to engage in humiliating negotiations with the guilty employer for the repayment of their stolen wages.The guilt of employers is determined by their own judgment in a “consultation committee” and they get to decide for themselves whether their case is handed over to a special court of arbitration. The legislation is totally unique in that it treats the perpetrators with kid gloves and provides them with even more efficient means of escape than the present wage claims process available to the unions.Violations against the legally valid wages of more than half of all wage earners are entirely exempt from the legislation because it only applies to violations against the minimum wages of collective agreements but not to violations against the employment contract.The conditions of the court procedure place a very small burden of obligations on the directorate of labor, for instance regarding the investigation of how wage affairs are conducted in a workplace where there is suspicion of violations, placing instead the entire burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the wage earner in question and limiting liability to only his case.The bill has no clauses stipulating compensation or penalty payments, for which the labor movement has called, which would have ensured that the most common practice of wage theft in the Icelandic labor market would have resulted in consequences. Instead, the abovementioned consultation committee is established, leaving it up to the guilty employer to decide for himself whether to repay the wages he owes or not, even where it has been established that the employee had been cheated of his wages.The bill therefore fails to achieve the goal outlined in the report, to “counter social dumping and violations in the Icelandic labor market”. The minister of social affairs and children and the government have also broken their own promises, issued as the collective agreement in the open labor market was signed in April of 2019, and which have been reiterated since then, for instance during a meeting with the chairmen of the member unions of ASÍ on August 25th.The repeated requests Efling made that they be presented with the contents of the bill before it was issued from the ministry of social affairs were rejected or ignored. The comments which Efling made to the bill include a question regarding whether the authors of the bill in fact understand the problem which the bill is meant to address.“The corridors of disrespect and humiliation down which these victims of wage theft would be dragged if this bill were to become law are truly amazing, not to mention the extravagant buffet of innovative escapes for the guilty employers. The imagination of the minister of social affairs and children, Ásmundur Einar Daðason, has been unleashed encountering pushback at any point from the reality of working people or low wage earners,“ said Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairman of Efling.Efling comments on the government bill