If anyone is in doubt what matters in Iceland, the answer can be found in who are the top earners in Iceland. Now we know: fishing matters, again – and fishermen are the highest earners. It also indicates the strong standing of Icelandic fisheries and how well this business is going.
When the Icelandic banks collapsed in October 2008 the news went around the world that now Icelandic bankers were turning fishermen. The reason was that some journalists had indeed found a banker or two who had secured a place on a trawler or a fishing boat. Since then, I don’t know how often I have been asked if this was indeed the case – that Icelandic bankers were turning to fishing en masse. No, it isn’t. Though there certainly may have been bankers who secured themselves a place on a fishing boat (most likely through family relations) this was not a general trend.
But if it had been a general trend, ex-bankers would be doing just fine. It turns out that fishermen are indeed the group with the highest income in – and yes, they beat CEOs… and bankers.
Every year, the Icelandic business magazine Frjáls verslun (Free trade), publishes an issue entirely devoted to income – of social groups and well known individuals from all walks of life, i.a. politicians, media people, artists and business men. In total, the issue publishes the earnings of 3500 individuals. This is possible because the Inland Revenue in Iceland publishes every year, around this time, what every individual in Iceland pays in tax. (Yes, this may sound incredible to foreigners but this is transparency the Icelandic way: the overview is only open for a few days and only in books one has to visit in person at the Inland Revenue offices). From the tax, it is possible to calculate income, i.e. the ISK people get into their pockets. Thus, these numbers tell a certain story of salary but not the whole story of assets, income from dividends etc.
This year, the Frjáls verslun income issue publishes this week, shows that fishermen have superseded CEOs in terms of income. The general salary reference in Iceland is not a year’s income but the monthly income. The top 200 fishermen earners now have ISK2.5m, €15.6000, a month, compared to CEOs’ ISK2.3m, €14.400.
This is interesting in terms of salary, social groups and their social leverage. But it of course is also an interesting indication of Icelandic fisheries. Whereas fisheries are heavily subsidised in many countries, almost political pet projects, Icelandic fisheries are a booming industry.
What is clear from the Frjáls verslun data is that salary of CEOs, bankers and fisherman is rising much more rapidly than inflation. This may bode ill for the Icelandic economy since there will be wage negotiations for large groups in the labour market later this year. The tendency among these three groups will set the tone for these negotiations. Already, some are pointing out that CEOs and bankers are showing great irresponsibility, unavoidably egging other groups to irrational and unreasonable wage demands.
No, no one is blaming the fishermen because their salary is set, to a great degree, by what they fish and the value of their catches. Their catches, mostly sold abroad, went up in value with the collapsing krona, in addition to price increases due to improved marketing. And in general, fishermen tend to have a brahmin stature in Iceland: they are rarely criticised and certainly, politicians do not make disparaging remarks about fishermen since in many ways fishermen are seen as pillars of society. In Iceland, fishermen are talked of as “heroes of the oceans.”
As to public figures, the president of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson now earns ISK2m, €12.5000, a month, up by ISK400, €2.500, from last year. The prime minister earns ISK1.5m, €9.400, a month.
As to social groups the average monthly salary of the top 200 earners in every group is the following:
Fishermen ISK2,4 m ISK2,5 m
CEOs ISK2,2 m ISK2,3 m
Financial companies ISK 1,6 m ISK1,7 m
Managers (below CEOs) ISK2,0 m ISK1,6 m
Top 100 in education ISK0,9 m. ISK1,0 m
Health services ISK1,5 m ISK1,4 m
*Here is an overview of the income issue, in Icelandic, from Frjáls verslun.
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