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Varða – Iceland's new labour market research institute

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour ASÍ and the Federation of State and Municipal Employees BSRB have agreed to set up a new institute for labour market research in the country.

The Varða institute will encourage independent research projects. The results might have considerable influence on workers’ wage and employment conditions.

“Setting up the labour market institute has been planned for some time. There has been an enormous interest in creating an institute like this,” says the new institute’s Managing Director Kristín Heba Gísladóttir. Kristín Heba Gísladóttir

Kristín Heba Gísladóttir, Managing Director for the new Varða research institute

The idea emerged as Iceland’s labour movement watched how results from labour market research were being used in the public debate on social and economic issues by colleagues elsewhere in the Nordics. 

It is important to establish an institute like this, according to Kristín Heba, who says those who hold power in a society decides which knowledge should be considered relevant and important. With their own research institute, the labour movement can wield some influence over what shape that knowledge takes.

“An institute like this gives us the chance to get a better overview and to gather all research results in one place,” she says.

Getting to know the grassroots

Kristín Heba’s first task as Varða’s Managing Director is to get to know the labour movement and the grassroots for whom she will be working. Task number two will be to visit similar institutes in Norway and Sweden to get ideas for how to shape the Icelandic labour market institute.   

The agreement between ASÍ and BSRB states that the labour market institute Varða should increase knowledge about workers’ environments. Varða will be an independent research institute working on its own terms.

How to prioritise

In the beginning, the main priority will be to create research projects in cooperation with different partners. The work will be project-based and will depend on which partners can be found.

BSRB leader Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir says the goal is to increase the knowledge about workers’ wage conditions and their environments. Researchers can come from different parts of Iceland’s university community, they can be foreign experts or experts from trade unions. 

There is a lot of interest for cooperation within academic circles. There are also plans for research cooperation with similar institutes in Scandinavia. Sonja Ýr believes the main challenge could be how to choose which research projects to include from the start. Trade unions are growing in strength thanks to publicity and getting their message across, and they are given more influence over wage and employment terms. Varða will also build a contact network between researchers, the academic world and the labour movement in Iceland and in other countries.


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