Migrant workers in Iceland: Cheap labour, economic saviours, or allies in the fight against exploitation?

As part of Þjóðarspegillinn, the annual conference at School of Social Sciences that takes place on November, 1st, Mobilities and Transnational Iceland organizes a keynote lecture by Hein de Haas that would be followed by the panel discussion.

Unnur Dís Skaptadóttir, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iceland opens the event.

9:30 – 10:45 Hein de Haas, International Migration: Myths and Facts

Popular views on international migration are based on myths rather than facts, which results in a huge gap between narratives and realities of migration. Hein de Haas highlights the need to go beyond polarized debates between ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-’ migration voices by rethinking migration as an integral and inevitable part of development processes. His lecture highlights that perceived or real migration policy failure is generally explained by an inability or unwillingness to understand how social, economic, and political transformations affect migration in mostly indirect, but powerful ways, which lie largely beyond the reach of migration policies.

Hein de Haas is Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. He is a founding member and a former director of the International Migration Institute (IMI) at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on the linkages between migration and broader processes of social transformation and development. His theoretical and empirical publications cover a wide range of issues, including migration determinants and the impact of migration policies on the life chances of migrants. He has argued that migration to Europe is driven largely by the demand for cheap labour. De Haas is the co-author (with Stephen Castles and Mark Miller) of the book The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World.

Kjartan Sveinsson, adjunct lecturer in sociology, University of Iceland, chairs the session.

11:00 – 12:45 Panel discussion (Icelandic with English translation)
Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Social Affairs and Equality
Dovelyn Rannveig Mendoza, Lead Analyst and Researcher, Migration Policy Analysis, Amsterdam and Visiting Fellow, International Institute of Social History
Ragnar Árnason, director of labour markets, Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA)
Hjördís Þóra Sigurþórsdóttir, Chair of AFL, the Union of General and Special Workers in East Iceland
Róbert Farestveit, economist, Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ)
Þórður Snær Júlíusson, Editor of Kjarninn moderates discussion

International labour markets have transformed in recent decades, with faster and more accessible transport, open markets and deregulation. As a result, migration has increased, including various types of labour related mobility. Iceland has followed these global trends. The number for people arriving to work in Iceland has grown considerably, especially form Eastern Europe. Foreign citizens working in Iceland are now at record levels, making up 20% of all employees in Icelandic labour market.

Icelandic society has struggled to adapt to these rapid changes and many questions remain unanswered. What is the position of migrant workers in the Icelandic labour market? Do they receive equal treatment to Icelandic workers in terms of rights and salaries, or do they experience discrimination? Do they get jobs in accordance with their education and experience? If there are cases of discrimination, are those exceptions or common practice? Are any of these challenges particular to Iceland and is Iceland trying to address these issues differently? Are Icelanders – both employers and employees – ready to turn a blind eye to discrimination of migrant workers as long as it benefits the economy?
Invited panelists will address this questions.