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The diverse backgrounds of women who work in trade unions

The diverse backgrounds of women who work in trade unions

The diverse backgrounds of women who work in trade unions

It has hardly escaped anyone that the Icelandic labour market has gone through a dramatic change in the last decades. A changed composition of workers calls for new knowledge and skills from union workers. All around the country, inspiring women play a key role in providing service to members of foreign origin, where diverse language skills are essential. We contacted six women from trade unions all around the country, and asked them some questions.

Agnieszka Tyka, Verkalýðsfélag Vestfirðinga (Westfjords trade union)

1. What is your job?
“I work in the office of Verkalýðsfélag Vestfirðinga in Ísafjörður. I am a service representative and my job includes a variety of tasks, for example, receiving members and assisting them with all sorts of issues. A large portion of our members in the Westfjords are Polish, and my Polish language skills are useful in the job. I also do workplace inspections, and in addition, I work as a cleaner.”

2. What would be the title of your biography?
“An Icelander from Poland in Iceland.”

3. What is your favourite place in Iceland?
“I have travelled very little in Iceland so I do not have a favourite spot here, but now that international travelling is not advised, I am sure that will change and maybe I will find my “special place” in Iceland.”

4. If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
“To enjoy every day of my life to the fullest.”

5. Who is your role model in the labour movement?
“Finnbogi Sveinbjörnsson, chair and director of VerkVest, no doubt about it. The man deserves a gold medal.”

Magdalena Kwiatkowska, Efling – union

1. What is your job?
“I am a project manager of education and training with Efling. My team’s primary role is to develop, implement and monitor all education, training and union activities, to encourage members participation in the labour movement. Another role of the team is to oversee the union’s educational fund and propose changes to the fund’s allocation rules in line with changes in education. Also to find and support future leaders and establish connections between individuals and groups, in order to strengthen the movement. I am involved in the marketing and introduction of courses, as well as providing translations and interpreting from Icelandic/English to Polish/English.”

2. What would be the title of your biography?
“Roller coaster – around the world.” I have lived, studied and worked in cities like London, Leeds, Vancouver and Reykjavík. I have worked low paid jobs and I have had my own company, I have struggled to make ends meet and I have celebrated victories. I have become very familiar with the status and meaning of the term “foreigner”.”

3. What is your favourite place in Iceland?
“I love Iceland in general. I moved away and came back, some people say that if you leave the island, it will call upon you, and I completely agree with that, of course. Of course I have my favourite spots in Iceland, like the Westfjords and Seyðisfjörður. This summer, I found a beach in the East of Iceland, full of swans and white sand, and it felt like a complete paradise. Peace and freedom, no wonder birds chose this spot.”

4. If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
“This question reminds me of the Miss World pageant. We used to watch it back in Poland when I was a little girl, just like you watch Eurovision here, but now that is all so “passé”. So I will answer in the spirit of Miss World: To erase poverty in the world. Just kidding! I would however wish that the international myth about Iceland, that it is the country of welfare, at the top in human rights, even that wages are very high, that there is plenty of good and affordable housing; I just wish it were all true! I do think that this wish can be fulfilled. Iceland is a very small country, we can all live here in peace and comfort. We should all remember: “There are no poor countries, they are just mismanaged.“ I also want to add: I hope we escape from the Covid prison soon and can again be allowed to live and travel.”

5. Who is your role model in the labour movement?
“I am from Poland. We are very familiar with the power of solidarity, organising and strikes. In 2019, foreign people in Iceland were the majority of those who voted to go on a strike. We should get together, think about what we want and learn from each other. We should laugh at the Government’s Green Paper (“grínbók”), implement penalties for wage theft, and lobby for good and affordable apartments for families. We should also translate collective agreements and all other information so that foreign workers can know their rights!”

Marta Katarzyna Kuc, Báran and Verkalýðsfélag Suðurlands (South Iceland trade union)

1. What is your job?
“I work as a service representative and workplace inspector ofr two trade unions: Báran in Selfoss and Verkalýðsfélag Suðurlands in Hella. My job includes a variety of tasks. Among other things, I process applications for educational grants and health grants, I assist members with wage-related issues, sickness benefits, union representatives issues and holiday houses.
I also provide services to Polish people, which represent large groups in our unions. When needed, I also go on workplace inspections.”

2. What would be the title of your biography?
“2001: The Year That Changed Everything (our family took a leap and decided to move to Iceland), or, Me and The Country I Love (this feeling follows me every single day, I LOVE ICELAND).”

3. What is your favourite place in Iceland?
“I do not have a favourite place in Iceland. Every time I think I have found my favourite spot, I discover another one. I love looking at mountains and glaciers, especially Eyjafjallajökull glacier. There is some mystery in them.”

4. If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
“I would wish that my parents moved to Iceland.”

5. Who is your role model in the labour movement?
“Many people have fought in the labour struggle. My biggest role models are Lech Wałęsa and Anna Walentynowicz. When it comes to the Icelandic labour movement, I am happy to see strong women on the boards or as chairwomen of their trade unions, shaping the future and policy of the labour movement.”

Aleksandra Radovanovic, AFL – Starfsgreinafélag

1. What is your job?
“I work for AFL – starfsgreinafélag in Egilsstaðir. I have a degree in business and I work as the union’s head accountant. My job is to ensure that all of AFL’s finances are registered correctly, that every króna is counted for so that our members can at any time see how their money is spent.”

2. What would be the title of your biography?
“I come from Serbia, a beautiful Balkan country. My country has been through many problems through the years: crises, wars and mass-unemployment. I am one of the many young people who decided to leave their home country after completing their studies, and move to other European countries in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families. Why did I choose Iceland? I followed my love. My husband came here first and I had to follow my heart.”

3. What is your favourite place in Iceland?
“My favourite place in Iceland is exactly where I live with my family; my husband and our three daughters, Jana, Hristina and Lenka, who are all born here in Iceland. From the time I moved to Iceland in 2007 I have always lived in East Iceland. We lived in Seyðisfjörður for the first five years, and that small town has a special place in my heart. Beautiful fjords, ocean, mountains, waterfalls, beautiful natural treasures and Hallormsstaður are what make Egilsstaðir and all of the East the most beautiful place in Iceland. Even though I am a big-city girl, and there are many things I miss in this small society, there is nothing that beats the security and peace we have here.”

4. If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
“I miss my family and friends deeply, and I wish I could visit them more often than I do now. A direct flight to Serbia would make it easier. Then I could go over for a long weekend and surprise everyone.”

5. Who is your role model in the labour movement?
“In the labour movement, I support anyone who fights for every person’s right to live in a safe society, to work, to be able to afford housing, food and medications. Everyone should have their basic needs fulfilled, not just rich people. I believe in everyone who fights for a better Iceland, a class-free society where everyone is equal.”

Nicole Kristjánsdóttir, Eining-Iðja

1. What is your job?
“I work for Eining-Iðja in Akureyri, as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. It is both demanding and interesting to help people to return to work. I have worked here since 2009 and I enjoy the fact that every day I meet new people in different situations. It is very rewarding to help people.”

2. What would be the title of your biography?
“It would be an adventure with horses, sheep and two donkeys, in the spirit of Rosamunde Pilcher. It would be a best-selling romance, a movie adaptation project for Baltasar, full of sweat, tears and blood... If I ever get it on paper.”

3. What is your favourite place in Iceland?
“Hvalvatnsfjörður, my “home-turf” here in Iceland, Loðmundarfjörður in the East, Kerlingarfjöll mountains, and many more.”

4. If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
“Apart from world peace, I would wish for one hour with my Mom, who left us much too soon.”

5. Who is your role model in the labour movement?
“All the women who have fought, and are fighting, for equality in the Icelandic labour market. We have come so far compared to others, we are a role model for the world, and yet we are far from having reached our dreams.”

Malgorzata Beata Libera, AFL – starfsgreinafélag

1. What is your job?
“I work for AFL – starfsgreinafélag in Reyðarfjörður. I provide general services and work on vocational education affairs.”

2. What would be the title of your biography?
“Where Are My Keys?”

3. What is your favourite place in Iceland?
“There are many beautiful places, but Ásbyrgi is one of the most beautiful.”

4. If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
“Happiness and joy for everyone.”

5. Who is your role model in the labour movement?
“An incredible Polish woman named Anna Walentynowicz – Solidarność.”

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