Smelter Jobs? Societal changes and employment opportunities for women in East Iceland

Tinna Kristbjörg Halldórsdóttir, Guðbjörg Linda Rafnsdóttir


The period from 2003-2008 was one of upheaval and change in East Iceland with the single largest construction project in Iceland to date; the building of Kárahnjúkar dam and the Fjarðaál Alcoa aluminium smelter. These gave way to various societal changes in the area, such as population increase, new jobs and rise in housing prices, in addition to a range of side effects on the service factor. The aim of this article is to explore if women in the area describe new employment opportunities accompanying these changes. The results are derived from in-depth interviews with 34 women in East Iceland. The interviews unfold the view that a certain ‘modernization’ of the east Icelandic society can be attributed to the smelter construction. However, the women interviewed have difficulty defining whether and how they themselves had profited from the constructions and none of those interviewed in this research named working in the smelter as one of their employment opportunities. Among the reasons discussed were the twelve-hour shifts, lack of flexibilities, long distances and the binding to the workplace during work-hours. Results indicate that an unequal gender balance still remainsin the area.


Job Market; Women; Rural Society; Aluminium Smelters.

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