New Laws on E-Cigarettes Go Into Effect Today

New laws governing the import, use, and safety of e-cigarettes, as well as provisions meant to discourage young people from using these products go into effect today, RÚV reports. These are the first laws in Iceland to specifically address e-cigarettes and their use and conform to existing laws on e-cigarettes that have been put in place by the European Council.

Under the terms of the new law, the Minister of Health will be responsible for setting regulations with further provisions regarding the quality, safety, and ingredient descriptions for e-cigarette products. These provisions will take effect on June 1. Those who import e-cigarettes and their refills and accessories have also been given a deadline for conforming to the new regulations on package labeling. E-cigarette products that do not conform to the new provisions will be legally saleable until September 1, 2019.

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir says that the new laws on e-cigarettes are very similar to those that are in place for traditional ones. Cigarette packaging must, for instance, clearly indicate that nicotine is highly addictive.

Minister of Finance Calls for Immediate Review of Bank CEO Salaries

Bjarni Benediktsson

Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson has requested an immediate review of CEO salaries at state-owned banks, Kjarninn reports. In a letter sent to the office of Icelandic State Financial Investments (BR) on Thursday, Bjarni stated that the decision of Landsbankinn and Íslandsbanki to raise their CEOs’ salaries “has already had a considerably negative impact on their reputations…as well as sending unacceptable messages” to those union members—specifically hotel cleaning staff—currently involved in ongoing wage disputes.

Bank CEO salaries have come under fire from many quarters after it was learned that Landsbankinn CEO Lilja Björk Einarsdóttir received significant pay raises twice in one year. She received her first raise of ISK 1.2 million [$10,045; €8,831] in July 2017, and then another increase of ISK 550,000 [$4,604; €4,047] in early 2018, making her total salary ISK 3.8 million [$31,809; €27,966] a month. Meanwhile, as of January 2017, Íslandsbanki CEO Birna Einarsdóttir was making ISK 4.2 million [$35,162; €30,912] a month, on top of which she also received ISK 200,000 [$1,674; €1,472] in perks and additional benefits.

In response, Már Guðmundsson, governor of the Central Bank of Iceland, warned against excessive pay raises in a recent video, saying they would inevitably lead to increased interest rates and unemployment in the country. The Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) also weighed in, with director Halldór Benjamín calling the Landsbankinn bank council’s decision to raise Lilja Björk’s pay twice in one year “tone deaf.”

In his letter to BR, Bjarni stated that this current state of affairs requires “…a prompt review of salary decisions and preparation for changes in current wage policies, which will be submitted at the upcoming general meeting of the banks.” The letter continues by saying that the banks have not respected the state’s requests as far back as January 2017 that restraint and prudence be exercised in respect to all salary decisions.

Both Landsbankinn and Íslandsbanki’s board of directors have responded on their salary decisions in recent weeks. In a letter published on their website, Landsbankinn’s board noted that the criticism they’d received was “understandable,” given that they are owned by the state, but that the decision to raise Lilja Björk’s salary twice was due to the fact that “it was clear that [her salary] was lower than that of the highest executives at other large financial institutions.” They asserted that their CEO salaries had been much lower than those of their counterparts for “many years,” and thus the recent wages were more about establishing wage parity. In its own letter, Íslandsbanki noted that Birna’s salary has decreased ISK 600,000 [$5,025; €4,414] since 2016, but commended her abilities as a CEO, calling her a “strong leader” and similarly stating that the bank’s wage policy requires that CEO salaries be competitive with those of other banks.

Bjarni stated that both banks’ interpretation of the standards for salary increases is “narrow and one-sided” and hasn’t been put into the necessary context. “Trust and confidence must be able to prevail between those who’ve been entrusted with the management of important corporations and those authorities who are responsible for their management as owners.”

This current letter is Bjarni’s second on the matter; he first sent a letter to the two banks about their salary decisions on February 12.

Union Members Approve Strike

Wage negotiations

The members of the Efling labour union have voted in favor of a strike, RÚV reports. The vote comes after wage negotiations broke down between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and labour unions last week. The one-day work stoppage will begin at 10:00 am on March 8 and will end at 23:59 on the same day.

Some 8,000 of the union’s members were invited to vote on the March 8 strike, which would affect around 700 workers in cleaning, housekeeping, and laundry services in hotels and guest houses in the Reykjavík capital area, as well as some nearby municipalities.

SA has disputed the legality of the vote, saying that according to the Unions and Labour Disputes Act, only union members directly affected by a proposed strike are permitted to vote on the action. Efling chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir said, however, that the vote has been organised carefully and with legal counsel. “We are fully confident that we are doing everything correctly,” she stated. A parliamentary meeting is being held on the dispute today and there will be a hearing about it on Monday. It’s expected that there will be a judgement on the legality of the vote before the scheduled March 8 strike.

Of the 862 votes that were cast on the work stoppage, 769, or 89%, voted in favor of striking, while only 67 opposed. 26 voters were neutral on the issue. Given the overall size of the union, however, voter turnout was very low: only 11% of Efling members voted on the issue.

Asked about the vote results, Sólveig Anna remarked that “It’s the overwhelming majority of those who, of course—as everyone ought to understand—want to stop working because their wages are so shamefully low that it isn’t even theoretically possible that they can make ends meet. They are going to stand together now, just like I knew they would.”

Iceland Celebrates Thirty Years of Legal Beer

Today, March 1, marks the thirtieth anniversary of beer being legalized in Iceland, RÚV reports. Since beer was legalized, Icelanders have consumed some 346 million litres [91.4 million gallons] of beer, or, to put it in perspective, they’ve drunk the volume of the big pool at Laugardalur 249 times.

March 1, 1989, the day that the beer ban was first lifted after 74 years of prohibition, is remembered as a day of great celebration in Reykjavík. Thirsty revelers gathered downtown, waited in long queues at the few establishments that had beer to sell, and, according to some memories of the day, danced on tables after a few rounds of the newly legalized beverage. According to figures published the next day, the state-run liquor stores sold 340,000 cans of beer on that single day, although that figure is somewhat in doubt.

Seven kinds of beer were sold on the first Beer Day: Sanitas Pilsner, Egils Gull, Budweiser, Löwenbräu, Tuborg, Kaiser and Sanitas Lager. Today, by contrast, the state-run liquor stores sell 500 different kinds of beer, although the exact number in increases during special holiday promotions at Christmas and Easter.

On the first Beer Day, the daily paper Morgunblaðið also published a map that showed all the kinds of beer being sold at the various Vínbúð locations and the prices of each. Prices ranged from ISK 93 [$0.77; €0.68] to ISK 110 [$0.92; €0.88] for a single can to ISK 560 [$4.70; €4.13] to ISK 660 [$5.53; €4.86] for a six-pack. At the time, there were 17 Vínbúð locations in the country, five of which were located in the Reykjavík. Today, there are 51, not counting the fact that it is also possible to place orders through the Vínbúð website.

Interestingly, while it was in effect, the beer ban was not absolute. Starting in 1965, ship and airline crews were permitted to bring beer into the country. This was eventually challenged by Davíð Scheving Thorsteinsson in 1979 on the grounds of unequal treatment under the law. The following year, tourists visiting the country were allowed to buy beer in the Duty Free, but although bills that would have ended the beer ban were presented in parliament, none managed to pass. In 1989, however, Alþingi finally passed a bill that fully ended the prohibition of beer.