The best way to avoid abuse at work is to know and claim your rights. In this column you get to know the most important rights and employment terms. The Icelandic trade union movement has fought for these rights in a century long battle and it is vital that we defend them together. If you have any doubts or questions about your rights you should contact your trade union.

ILLNESS AND ACCIDENTS

When you get ill, you have the right to be at home if you can’t go to work due to your illness. A minimum right to two sick days per working month is protected by law.

Illness must be reported to the employer, otherwise you might lose your right to wages during your sick leave.

If you’re in doubt about your rights to sick days, or your claims to payment, talk to your union.

Sickness of children

In collective agreements, there is a right of employees to stay at home when their children are ill, without any loss in wages. Generally, you have a right to 12 days for every 12 month period.

Remember to inform your employer when you have to stay at home due to your child’s illness.

Accidents at work

If you are injured at work, or on your way to or from work, you have the right to compensation in addition to your sick days, in the form of daytime wages for up to three months.

Remember to talk to your union if you are injured at work.

HOLIDAYS

Holiday rights work in two ways; as a right to free days, and as a right to wages while on holiday.

All employees have a right to summer holidays or vacation. Holiday pay should not be included in the regular wages.

Holiday pay is deducted from wages, and the basic proportion is 10.17%. Normally, employees get their holiday pay as they take their vacation. When no vacation is taken, holiday pay still has to be paid out.

Remember that when you quit your job, you have a right to your unused holiday pay.

WORKING TIME

Icelandic law sets a general rule, defining a full job as five 8-hour days per week, or 40 hours in total.

However, the collective agreements of the individual unions actually define in detail how the working time of employees should be organised.

If you’re not sure what your working time should be, talk to the union representative for your workplace or to your union.

REST AND FREE DAYS

An employee has a right to at least 11 hours of continuous rest every 24 hours, although exceptional circumstances may allow for shorter rest. In shift work, the rest time should be eight hours.

Generally you have the right to two free days each week. However, if one of them counts as a day of rest, it should be directly linked to a period of daily rest hours. In other words, you should get 35 hours of continuous rest once per week.

Maximum working time, including overtime, should not be more than 48 hours per week for each four month period.

Remember that rules about working time are different for the various collective agreements, so you should familiarise yourself with your rights, such as by talking to your union representative or your union.

FOOD- AND COFFEE BREAKS

The food break is usually 30-60 minutes, and does not count as working time. It is not paid.

Coffee breaks count as working time and are paid. Generally, if you work more than six hours, you have the right to a 15 minute coffee break.

Remember that you have a right to food- and coffee breaks!

UNIONS

Why do I pay money to a union?

In short, it is because the unions make collective agreements which decide your wages and conditions.

Wages and other conditions of work, which you agree to with your employer, are based on collective agreements. Your job contract can not allow worse conditions than the collective agreement for your profession stipulates. Therefore, the collective agreements are very important when it comes to your wages and rights in the labour market.

The union provides many services to its members. You can get information and assistance on wage calculations and on your rights and conditions at work. You can apply for education grants, rent a summer house, and get support if you have a long-term illness and help to get back to work afterwards, as well as legal support if you have a quarrel with your employer.

What follows is a short primer on the main tasks of the unions. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with your union to get further information if you’re unsure of your rights, or have a disagreement with your employer about your wages and working conditions.

The union will assist you in such disputes.

Unions make collective agreements with the associations of employers. A part of an employee’s wages is transmitted by the employer to the relevant union. The dues are a sort of fee for the creation of the collective agreement and other services which the union provides, such as advice in disputes with employers and access to lawyers in such disputes. Seen another way, they are a fee for getting to work according to a collective agreement of the union which ensures minimum wages and conditions.

Advice

The union provides various services, covered by the membership dues. These include providing information to members, offering advice in disputes with the employer about wages and working conditions, and legal services in such cases if necessary.

Summer houses

Union members can apply for renting summer houses, but it is different from union to union how they are allocated. Their aim is to keep the prices at a minimum.

Education and courses

If workers want to educate themselves, they can apply for education and course grants from the education funds of the unions. Contact your union to get information on which grants you have a right to. You may also have a claim to support for various leisure activities, such as gym cards.

Work rehabilitation

If you’ve suffered illness or an accident, and don’t have the same capacity for work as before, you should contact a representative of your union’s sick benefits fund.

What union should I pay into?

It depends on what job you do and who you work for. To get information about what union you should pay into, talk to your employer, or to your workplace’s union representative. The information should also be on your payslip.

HIRINGS

When you’re hired, it is important to sign a written hiring contract right at the beginning. In a hiring contract the following items have to be listed: name of employee and employer, workplace, a short job description, first day of work, period of employment if it is for a limited time, notice period, monthly or weekly wages, length of the working day, pension fund, and reference to a collective agreement.

If the period of employment isn’t stipulated, the contract is for an indefinite period, i.e. it’s not decided when the employment stops. In cases of hirings for indefinite periods of time, the employer can’t terminate your job except by giving you the notice period which your collective agreement affords you.

Remember to negotiate your job in written terms, both when you are hired, and when changes are made to your conditions of employment.

Wages and conditions

Wages and conditions are, in the main, determined by the collective agreement. It is important that you know what collective agreement applies to your job, because then you can gather information about wages, rights and duties that apply to it. Most collective agreements can be read on the website of the relevant union.

It is a fundamental point that wages and other conditions, which you negotiate with your employer, can never be worse than what the collective agreement says. It is, however, perfectly all right for your wages to be higher and your conditions better than the collective agreement says.

Before you start work, wages and other payments should be clear. It is harder to negotiate about these things after you have started working.

EQUALISED PAY (í. jafnaðarkaup)

Equalised pay does not exist as a specific rate. If you get such pay, the danger is that you may get less money paid than if you would have gotten at daytime wages for daytime work and overtime rates for overtime hours.If your employer says that a business normally pays its employees equalised wages, you should look at the calculations for it and go over them with your union. The experience of the unions is that the calculations are often wrong.

THE PAYSLIP

When your wages are paid, you always have the right to a payslip.

Your payslip should list all the individual items that make up your total salary. From the total wages, the employer must deduct taxes, pension contributions, membership dues and so on. The employer is responsible for transferring these payments to the appropriate places. What remains are the wages you get paid.

If you don’t understand the information presented on your payslip, you should talk to your union. There, you will get useful assistance.

If you suspect your wage calculations contain errors, or if your wages haven’t been paid, you should immediately contact the union representative at your workplace or the union office directly.

TEMPORARY OR INDEFINITE HIRING CONTRACTS

Hiring contracts can be either temporary, such as from June 1 until September 1, or indefinite, that is without an end date of employment.

If a hiring contract doesn’t say that it is temporary, it is considered indefinite.

If a hiring contract is temporary, it doesn’t need to be terminated, since the employment ends at the date mentioned in the contract and the employee leaves the job. An indefinite hiring contract needs to be terminated with the notice period stated in the collective agreement.

BLACK WORK

Sometimes, employers offer people black work. The offer is normally higher pay in return for not announcing it to the taxman.

Black work is illegal and is punishable by law, such as via high fines.

Black work also doesn’t ensure the employees various rights they’d otherwise have a claim to, and which can make a big difference if the employee suffers any setbacks or shocks.

Remember that it is illegal to do black work!

CONTRACTORS

Some employers encourage their staff to do jobs as contractors.

If your employer encourages you to sign a contractor agreement, think carefully about what consequences that might entail for you.

If you work as a contractor, you are in a sense running a small business. A contractor does not enjoy the same protections as a regular worker. A contractor does not have the right to paid holiday, a notice period, wages during illness or after suffering accidents. Contractors also have to file their own taxes and insurance payments.

You need to take care of all these things yourself, which means your wages must be a lot higher than those you would have gotten as a regular wage-earner.

Speak to your union if you have further questions about contracting.

TERMINATION

If you want to quit your job, or your employer wants to lay you off, it has to happen via a formal resignation. Collective agreements state the notice period, which is generally three months.

If you want to quit your job, you must do it in writing. The notice period starts at the beginning of the next month. You must work through your notice period, and you maintain all of your rights during that time as a regular employee, for instance your sickness rights, and you continue collecting holiday rights. Your collected holiday pay and december bonus should be paid at the end of the employment term.

Your employer may decide, when laying somebody off, that they don’t have to work through the notice period. Employers are allowed to do this, but they have to pay full wages for the notice period. Remember to get a written confirmation in case your employer does not want you to work during your the notice period.

If you’ve been laid off, it is important to start looking for another job immediately. The notice period is looked at as a time where the employee can look for a new job. If you’ve worked until the end of your notice period without finding another job, you must register yourself as unemployed at the directorate of labour (í. Vinnumálastofnun) to acquire rights to unemployment benefits.