On Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Iceland’s capital city, to protest underpayment, lack of overtime and breaks, deplorable housing conditions and physical abuse of migrant workers. The protest followed the death of three Poles in Thursday’s fire in one of Reykjavik’s tenement buildings.
To demonstrate their opposition to the poor conditions in which migrant workers come to work in Iceland, some 300-strong group of disgruntled workers, including Poles, unionists, locals, parliamentarians marched through the streets of Reykjavik on Sunday. The Icelandic capital’s mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson also joined the protest.
Icelandic MP and head of the Pirate Party Smári McCarthy called “mismanagement and greed” the causes of the Bræðaborgarstígur fire.
The protesters set out from the seat of the Icelandic parliament, ending their march at the disaster site, where they laid flowers in commemoration of the three victims.
There was a big fire in Reykjavík, due in large part to mismanagement and greed. Here is the pirate party's response, in four languages: https://t.co/yamM1VlxA8— Smári McCarthy (@smarimc) June 28, 2020
Poles – the largest national minority in Iceland
“Foreign citizens are about 23 percent of the labour force in Iceland. Their participation in the labor market has played a huge role in Iceland’s economic growth,” mbl.is reported.
Citing Statistics Iceland, GrapeVine.is news website reported in May 2019 that “of the 192,232 people in Iceland currently in the labour market in the first quarter of 2019, 36,844 from the ages of 16 to 74 were immigrants… comprising 19.2 percent of all working people.”
According to Polish researcher Anna Maria Wojtyńska PhD at the University of Iceland cited by Iceland News, as many as 20,146 Poles were temporarily residing or permanently settled in Iceland by August 2019. Moreover, by the time Poles were the largest national minority in Iceland.
Whether Iceland continues to be an attractive destination for seasonal and permanent migrant workers seems to be contingent on how the local employers improve employment and accommodation conditions. It is also up to how Icelanders are to manage uncomfortable events such as the Bræðaborgarstígur fire and, first and foremost, learn to prevent such disasters from ever taking place.