Fired bankers excluded from the society

REYKJAVIK- Every week a group of unemployed meet in a community center in the outskirts of Reykjavik. All of them lost their jobs last september, when the bank Arion had to cut down. They come to give support and give good advice to each other. But the meeting is also a break from an everyday life that, at times, can feel very lonesome when you are no longer part of a working environment.

By Sajeev Shankar

Sigurbjörg Hjalmarsdottir, 41, often brings her laptop with her and goes the newly built music house in the middle of Reykjavik. Here she can write applications without having to sit home alone. She also meets other peolpe and gets away from the excluding feeling that unemployment can give you.

“I have to go out and see other people, if I didn’t I wouldn’t feel like a part of the society,” she says.

Like the rest of the group she was fired from Arion Bank last year, after having worked there since she was 29 years old.

Like a slap in the face

“It felt like a slap in the face. I felt I had been rejected, and that it wasn’t fair. I had been a good employee for more than 12 years,” she says.

She doesn’t think the bank handled the situation very well.

“It was done very quickly. It felt very cold, I had to stop working the same day, it was like I was told that part of my life was closed. Working in a bank is a big part of my idendity, and it was a good job. I really liked working in the bank, and then it was all gone, all of a sudden I was taken away from the society,” Sigurbjörg Hjalmarsdottir says.

Since she got fired she has written more than 30 applications but getting a job in Iceland is not easy at the moment.

Sigurbjörg Hjalmarsdottir hopes she will find a job soon. Photo: Sajeev Shankar


Meetings give ego boost

Today 13 unemployed have to chosen to meet up in the community center. Sigurður Albert Ármannsson who works at the union for financial employees, SSF, is here to answer some of the questions the unemployed have. One of the others who has chosen to come to the meeting is Ingibjørg Jona Gardusdottir. Like the rest of the group she was fired last september. The meeting is something she looks forward to every time.

“Coming here gives you confidence, the people here are really good to cheer you up if you have had a bad day. We are so few, so we have got to known each other very well. Every time I come here it feels like it gives a boost to my ego,” she says.

Like Sigurbjörg Hjalmarsdottir the frustration over getting fired was very big for Ingibjørg.

“When I was told I was fired I got really angry. At the same time I felt sorry for the people who were left behind they were all crying because we got fired. In the time that followed I got more angry and frustrated, it wasn’t easy. But pretty soon I decided that I wouldn’t let it bring me down,” she says.

Ingibjørg Jona Gardusdottir felt frustrated and angry when she was fired. Photo: Sajeev Shankar


One third of financial employees fired

Since the spring of 2008 more than a third of the people working in the banking sector have lost their jobs. Sigurður Albert Ármannsson is one of the only 3 employees at the union, SSF’s, central office in Reykjavik. He doesn’t think many more people in this sector are going to lose their job. “The financial sector in Iceland has reached a size that is fitting to the population. It was way too big before,” he says.

For Sigurður and the rest of SSF the last couple of years have been extremely busy.

“We are only three people working here, it has meant we have had to put different hats on all the time. We have to be able to help our members in every single way. Sometimes I worked like a lawyer, explaining the lay off agreement. Sometimes some of our members were very sad and needed someone to talk with, and I worked almost like some kind of psychologist. It has been a very challenging situation,” he says.

It has not only been a challenging sitaution for Sigurður and the rest of the SSF, it has also been difficult for those working in the bank, who didn’t get fired. The workload hasn’t decreased the same way the staff has.

“We need to increase awareness and create action plans regarding the burnout of the people in the sector. This is perhaps the most alarming issue, because we know the workload they are faced with is very stressfull,” he says.

Sigurður Albert Ármannsson has been very busy the last four years. Photo: Sajeev Shankar

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