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Iceland

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It is silent on whether workers fired for union activity should be reinstated, but it provides for fining employers who engage in this practice. The law permits the government to pass a provisional law to impose mandatory mediation when strikes threaten key sectors in the economy.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations (damages and fines) were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining agreements covered nearly 100 percent of the formal economy’s workforce. Independent contractors in various industries, but mainly in construction and tourism, sometimes hired subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

Authorities in the Directorate of Labor and the Directorate of Immigration effectively enforced the law. Resources were adequate during the year, although there were no prosecutions. The law is sufficiently stringent compared with those on other serious crimes, and penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations.

Traffickers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, tourism, and restaurants. Foreign “posted workers” were at particular risk of forced labor because traffickers paid them in their home countries and contracted them to work for up to 183 days in Iceland to avoid taxes and union fees, limiting tax authorities’ and union officials’ ability to monitor their work conditions and pay. Traffickers also subjected women to domestic servitude, forced labor, and sex trafficking.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions for children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws. According to the law, children who are 13 and 14 years old may be employed in light work up to 12 hours per week and a maximum of two hours per day outside organized school teaching hours during the school year and up to 35 hours a week or a maximum of seven hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children between the ages of 15 and 18 who do not attend school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum of eight hours per day, but not between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. For children who remain in school, the law limits work to 12 hours per week and a maximum two hours per day during the school year, but up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children younger than 18 may not be employed in work that is likely to be beyond their physical or mental capacity; work that is likely to cause permanent damage to health; work that involves the risk of hazardous radiation; work involving a risk of accidents, which it can be assumed that children and teenagers could have difficulty identifying or avoiding due to their lack of awareness or lack of experience or training; or work where there is a risk of violence or other specific risk, except where the young persons work with adults.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and other laws prohibit such discrimination in general and provide for fines determined by the courts for violations. In April parliament approved legislation on equal treatment in the labor market. This includes race, ethnicity, age, religion, beliefs, disabilities, reduced functionalities, orientation, gender identity, intersex, or gender expression. The government effectively enforced the law.

Employment discrimination occurred. In accordance with legislation on Equal Rights of Men and Women enacted in January, individuals, companies, institutions, and NGOs can refer cases to the Gender Equality Complaints Committee, which rules on appointments and salary related matters. Despite laws requiring equal pay for equal work, a pay gap existed between men and women.

ECRI reported that foreign construction workers, even skilled ones, were usually hired as unskilled workers at the collectively negotiated minimum wage. There were anecdotal indications of a broadening wage gap between Icelandic and foreign employees, with as much as a 20-30-percent difference in salaries, where work experience and education were otherwise equal.

Disability rights advocates asserted that persons with disabilities had a more difficult time finding jobs due to prejudice and because fewer job opportunities, especially part-time, were available for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not establish a minimum wage. The minimum wages negotiated in various collective bargaining agreements applied automatically to all employees in those occupations, including foreign workers, regardless of union membership. While the agreements can be either industry-wide, sector-wide, or in some cases firm-specific, the type of position defined the negotiated wage levels.

The law requires that employers compensate work exceeding eight hours per day as overtime and limits the time a worker may work, including overtime, to 48 hours a week on average during each four-month period. Overtime pay does not vary significantly across unions, but collective bargaining agreements determine the terms of overtime pay. The law entitles workers to 11 hours of rest in each 24-hour period and one day off each week. Under specially defined circumstances, employers may reduce the 11-hour rest period to no fewer than eight hours, but they must then compensate workers with corresponding rest time later. They may also postpone a worker’s day off, but the worker must receive the corresponding rest time within 14 days. The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (AOSH) monitored and enforced these regulations.

The law sets occupational health and safety standards that are appropriate for the main industries, and the Ministry of Welfare administered and enforced them through the AOSH, which conducted both proactive and reactive inspections. The ministry can close workplaces that fail to meet safety and health standards.

In June an amendment to the law increased the authorities and responsibilities of the Directorate of Labor to provide greater protections for laborers. The law also increased the obligations of contracting companies to provide information about activities to the government to provide for actual conditions of employment and to prevent possible cases of labor exploitation.

The AOSH did not employ a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce standards effectively in all sectors. The AOSH levied daily fines on companies that did not follow instructions, urging them to improve work conditions. Daily fines were generally sufficient to deter violations. With the exception of certain asylum seekers, the government provided universal health-care coverage to all workers, including those in the informal economy.

Violations of wage, working hours, and overtime standards were most common in the construction and tourism sectors. The Icelandic Federation of Labor stated that young persons in the tourism sector as well as foreign workers–primarily men in the construction industry, some of them undocumented–were paid less than the negotiated minimum wage. Although violations of occupational safety and health standards occurred in all sectors, violations occurred most frequently in the construction and food industries. Young workers and employees who did not understand or speak Icelandic and did not know local rules and regulations were more likely to be subjected to hazardous or exploitative working conditions.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future