Deaths at Reykjavik Energy Due to Harsh Circumstances of Low-Paid Foreign Workers

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Romanian workers died from suffocation - photo - Saving Iceland

The European Union is not the only part of the world where workers from central and eastern Europe are suffering exploitation and low pay. Last week Romanian workers suffocated while welding pipes for the geothermal expansion project at Hellisheidi, east of Reykjavik, Iceland. The Hellisheidi power plant is being expanded by Reykjavik Energy, a publicly owned company. The campaign group Saving Iceland states that serious accidents are almost unavoidable due to the harsh conditions under which eastern European workers in Iceland are forced to work.

At the construction site for the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant expansion, the labour intensive work is done by Polish and Romanian workers. Living in a work camp on the construction site, the eastern European workers are putting in 17 hour long shifts up to a maximum 72 hours a week. They are paid well below Iceland's usual rate for the job, and the recent weakness of the Krona means that they have been subject to an effective wage cut. Though they do receive some paid holiday, while on the job they are forced to remain in camp, given only one night out per month in Reykjavik.

The work camp has no recreational facilities or sports facilities, and televisions do not work properly due to local reception problems. Requests for simple facilities such as a football pitch or even a table tennis table have been turned down. Of course, anyone who complains is threatened with loss of their job.

“It is not surprising that deadly accidents happen to workers who have to work seventeen hour shifts." said Jaap Krater of Saving Iceland "It is ironic that a publicly owned company such as Reykjavik Energy, which credits itself with being clean and green, constructs its facilities by exploiting foreign workers in this fashion. No Icelander would work in these circumstances. The only people willing to do this work are those that have very few opportunities and have no choice but to do this, to support their families back home. Now that a number of workers have suffered a horrible and tragic death by suffocating in the pipes they were welding, action has to be taken to stop this scandalous behaviour by a company that is owned by the city of Reykjavik.”