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Look to Iceland

| By Berit Kvam

“Look how well the Icelanders have recovered from the crisis, “ says Christian Kastrop, Director at the OECD. And we will; our theme this time is Iceland’s transformation since the crisis hit in 2008. We also follow the report on the Nordic model, first launched in Reykjavik, to the OECD’s Paris headquarters.

Five years on the Nordic Labour Journal can now tell the incredible story which no Icelander can forget; what it felt like when they suddenly woke up to the news that their country was bust, the shock which followed and the questions which arose: are there people in the streets, are the busses running, will I get to work, does my job even exist? What now? It was dramatic from day one, says Lara Björnsdottir who set up the Welfare Watch to make sure no children went hungry and to prevent anyone from becoming social outsiders. The Welfare Watch is now being turned into a Nordic project.

Director Gissur Petursson at the Directorate of Labour was part of the whole thing. He had hardly seen unemployment in Iceland before and now he almost drowned in daily record figures. Youths were the worst hit. He and Hrafnhildur Tómasdóttir tell the NLJ how they helped activate people and found them jobs.

“People have had it tough, and systems have become less generous, but even if they don’t get back to old levels, people will reach an acceptable social level.” Christian Kastrop is impressed by the Icelanders. The NLJ met him in Paris at the seminar ‘Growth, employment and welfare, Nordic experiences and perspectives’ where the report ‘The Nordic Model - challenged but capable of reform’ was presented.

Iceland is the very symbol of what can be achieved when everyone works together. That’s also when you see how unjust it is that some get better wages, better jobs and are preferred because they have the right sex. As things are looking up, many want change. Thorsteinn Víglundsson who heads Iceland’s employers’ organisation SA, believes the crisis might have helped increase focus on gender equality. He’s a proponent of certificates for equal pay and for getting more women into top leadership positions.

Progress is visible through the emergence of new companies and high innovation levels. New products have been created in cooperation with the traditional fisheries sector, perhaps inspiring others. What still literally takes the prize for innovation and architecture is Harpa, the concert house welcoming visitors with a display of the northern light. The NLJ has taken a look at Iceland. Not a bad idea.


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