Punishing theft or asking nicely

Published by Efling on

Most of us are used to punishment following crimes. If someone steals from a shop, it’s not enough to return the stolen things – there’s also a fine. Otherwise, people with a certain attitude could simply try stealing every time, to see if it works. That would be a paradise of theft.

Which is why it’s utterly incredible that there are no fines for wage theft, even though it’s a much more dangerous thing than stealing some food from a store. Most victims of wage theft, where bosses don’t give you your full salary, are on low wages, are foreigners, people with worse connections into society. For them, it’s a big deal when their wages are stolen from them, wages they’ve earned through hard work.

When employees figure out their wages have been stolen, and manage to make a legal claim on their company, the boss only has to repay what was missing. The thief is caught at the exit, but only has to return the loot!

Last autumn, members of Efling met to write their demands for the current negotiations. Among them was to impose fines on wage thieves. These crimes had to be stopped. Surely, it had simply been forgotten to add this obvious clause to the agreements on wages and payments. The agreement between seamen and the fisheries, for example, has a clause like this. But SA, the business association, refused. Months have passed, with repeated news of aggressive wage theft, still SA stands in the way.

After horrifying news last week of the treatment of staff in the temp agency Menn í vinnu, this stance has become indefensible. But now SA says that they already have a solution. Companies should simply choose to deal only with certified agencies. No fines, only free choice about whether you do business with criminals or not. A free market for morals.

This is an untenable position. Wage theft should not be a matter of choice. The fight against wage theft should aim at stopping it, not at shifting it into a dark corner of legalised criminality, where the worst are free to exploit the worst off. Today, the free market has an opening for people who don’t care what others think of their criminal behaviour. Let’s close it.