Icelandic Confederation of Labour Elects First Woman President

Drífa Snædal, General Secretary of the Federation of General and Special Workers, has been elected as the first woman president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), RÚV reports. An organization of 48 trade unions representing workers throughout the country—including office and retail employees, seamen, construction and industrial workers, electricians, and others, ASÍ was founded in 1916. This is the first time in ASÍ’s history that a woman has been president.

The election took place on Friday morning. Drífa received 192 of the 292 votes cast, or 65.8%. Her opponent Sverrir Mar Albertsson, the general manager of Afl, the Union of General and Special Workers in East Iceland, received 100 votes, or 34.2%.

Drífa is a 45 and holds a degree in business administration from the University of Iceland as well as a Master’s degree in labour market studies and labour rights from Lund University in Sweden. Before 2012, when she took her position with the Federation of General and Special Workers, she worked as the managing director of the Left-Green party as well as the Kvennaathvarfið Women’s Shelter.

Drífa said that she looked forward to working with her opponent for the greater good of all members of ASÍ, and made a particular point of recognizing the women who paved the way for her success today. “When a woman is elected president for the first time in the 102-year history of the collective, then I owe a debt of thanks to women’s struggle over the years because the fact that I’m standing here is thanks to them.”

Ptarmigan Hunting Season Extended

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has decided to extend the annual hunting season by three days this year, increasing it to 15 days from last year’s 12, reports. Ptarmigan season begins today, October 26th, and will take place on the next four subsequent weekends until it ends on Sunday, November 25th.

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped immensely to restore the numbers. And indeed, the estimated total number of ptarmigan in Iceland as of this spring was 173,000, up from 132,000 in 2016.

A noticeable decrease in ptarmigan hunting has also taken place since 2005. Last season, the hunting quota for last past hunting season allowed for 57,000 ptarmigans to be shot.

The recommended number of ptarmigans to be hunted this year is 67,000. Based on the number of hunters that have registered in previous years, this would come out to an average of ten ptarmigans a hunter. However, the current ban on the sale of ptarmigan remains in place.

The Ministry for the Environment credits the increased stability of the ptarmigan population for the extension of the hunting season and explained that adding the extra days will also hopefully reduce stress on the hunting grounds.

Changes Proposed to Abortion Laws

Emergency room

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided to submit a bill to parliament which, if approved, would change the legal terms for abortion in Iceland. RÚV reports that the new bill would extend the time limits that are currently in place regarding abortion and allow women to have the procedure done up to the 22nd week of their pregnancy. The bill would also allow women to get abortions for any reason, rather than only under certain approved circumstances, as is currently the case.

Under current law, women are only permitted to have an abortion up to the 16th week of pregnancy if there are specifically approved health reasons or for ‘social reasons,’ such as if the pregnancy is the result of a rape. The existing law also allows for abortions after the 16th week if there is a threat to the woman’s health, or high likeliness that the fetus will be born with deformities or genetic or birth defects.

In its original version, the new bill proposed allowing abortions up to the 18th week, emphasizing that it would not matter what a woman’s reasons for wanting an abortion were, so long as her desire to have one was clear. The bill has since been revised, however, so that abortions would be allowable up to the 22nd week of pregnancy, again, regardless of the woman’s reasons for requesting one. As in the existing law, the new bill emphasizes that after an abortion has been requested, it should be performed as soon as possible.

An announcement from the Ministry of Welfare on this new bill also underscored that its provisions do not violate the rights and objectives established in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This assurance comes as a result of a flurry of international coverage last year about the low number of children born in Iceland with Down syndrome. The reason for the outcry was that ever since the introduction of prenatal screenings in Iceland at the turn of the century, close to 100% of all women who tested positively for Down syndrome have chosen to end their pregnancies. The Ministry maintains, however, that the new abortion bill continues to conforms to international standards and does not contravene the rights of people with disabilities.

Open-Net Fish Farming an “Attack on Rural Residents”

aquaculture farm iceland

The presidents of ten fishing companies in Northwest Iceland have come together to censure open-net fish farming in their district, calling the burgeoning industry “an attack on rural residents in the Húnavatn district.” Kjarninn reports that the presidents wrote an open letter to members of parliament who represent this constituency, pointing out that as many as 280 farms in Húnavatn earn income from salmon fishing in local rivers, and many also earn income from river-fished Arctic char as well.

The letter states quite emphatically that open-net fish farming has the potential to chip away at the foundation of the well-established and extensive river fishing industry which rural residents depend upon, as well as break up the cooperative fishing system, which ensures that income earned from fishing is distributed to all residents in the region.

Icelandic parliament passed a law in early October which gives the Minister of Fisheries authority to grant provisional licenses for fish farming. Fish farming is a growing industry in Iceland, but open-net fish farms have been a topic of much debate in the country due to their impact on the surrounding marine environment.

The operational licenses of salmon farming companies Arctic Sea Farm and Fjarðarlax for a combined 17,500 tonnes of fish in open-net farms in the Westfjords were revoked in early October by the Environmental and Natural Resources Board of Appeal. Nature conversation groups and landowners had brought charges against the licenses to the board, citing concerns of pollution and the spreading of farmed salmon into fishing rivers around the country. These concerns were well-founded: earlier this season, three farmed salmon were caught in two rivers in the Westfjords.

“Farmers and others who hold fishing rights have committed to protecting, maintaining, and associating this natural resource with the respect it deserves, such that our salmon fishing rivers have the best possible reputation,” read the letter written by the fishing company presidents. “Furthermore, there have been considerable funds invested in the improvement of fishermen’s facilities, such as good accommodations in fishing lodges and improved access to fishing areas by way of new road construction. The earnings from salmon and Arctic char fishing have for many generations been an integral pillar alongside agriculture for numerous farmers in the country’s rural areas. If the value [of this resource] is reduced, it will cut the livelihood of families around the country off at the knees. A legal framework related to farmers’ cooperatives in connection with fishing rivers would ensure that income is distributed democratically within rural areas.”

“This value is not only jeopardized by the inevitable genetic blending that happens when farmed fish of Norwegian origin travel up our rivers,” continues the letter. “[T]he damage is done as soon as farmed fish are caught in rivers. The reputation of the fishing rivers in question will suffer setbacks and the value of their catch will be reduced.”