New Bill Proposes Fines on Companies with Gender-Imbalanced Boards

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

A new parliamentary bill would impose fines on Icelandic companies that do not fulfil a gender quota on their corporate boards, reports. The bill was presented by Left-Green MP Lilja Rafney Magnúsdóttir and has the support of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who says she believes it will be welcomed by the business community.

According to the terms of the bill, which is currently under consideration in Alþingi, a daily fine of between ISK 10-100,000 ($80-790/€75-730) would be levied against companies whose corporate boards are not comprised of a legally mandated gender balance – namely that no gender may have less than 40% representation. The fine would be assessed until the company submitted an updated notice to the Register of Corporations showing a more equal gender balance.

According to recent reports, the percentage of women on corporate boards in Iceland is just over 30%, despite the fact that a higher rate is mandated by law and has been since 2010. It has also become clear that laws on gender quotas have not had the hoped-for spillover effect and led to more women entering executive or senior management positions.

“I think parliament should approve this bill,” the Prime Minister remarked during her speech at the Iceland Chamber of Commerce’s business conference in Harpa on Thursday. “…I believe that it will be welcomed by the business community.” Indeed, earlier in the conference, when Chamber of Commerce Chair Katrín Olga Jóhannesdóttir asked all attendees who were committed to being part of the solution when it comes to equality issues in the industry to stand, nearly every person in attendance did so.

“We all know that men and women are equal,” the Prime Minister concluded. “The fact that there are not more women executives [in Iceland] is a waste of human resources.”

Extreme Weather Causes Travel Disruptions, Power Outages, and Property Damage

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

The predicted severe winds hit the country this morning, causing travel disruptions, property damage and disruptions to capital area services. The red alert warning has now expired, although an orange warning is still in effect for the whole country. Parts of the south coast are still without power and some without hot water but capital area services are returning to normal with the city buses running again and healthcare clinics and post offices reopened. Road closures in the south have been lifted for the most part but roads in the north and Westfjords are still closed

A particularly deep low-pressure area was predicted to move over the country, causing the Met Office to issue a red alert for the second time ever since implementing the colour-alert system in 2017. The first time was this December in north Iceland. High tide was an added concern as the combination meant that tall waves could cause problems.

Waves by Harpa during extreme weather
[/media-credit] Photo by Golli

Extensive precautions were put in place, and most main roads in the country, including all roads to and from the city, were closed this morning when the worst of the storm hit. On the road by mt. Hafnarfjall between Reykjavík and Borgarnes, a steady wind speed of almost 30 metres per second and a particularly strong gust of wind measured 71 metres per second (159 miles per hour). Some roads have now been reopened in the south but road closures are still in effect in North Iceland. In North Iceland and the northern part of the Westfjords, some roads have been closed due to danger of avalanches.

The extreme weather caused power outages, mostly on the south coast but also in Hvalfjörður and Húsafell in West Iceland. On the south coast, power has been restored to Höfn but the surrounding area is still without power. The towns of Vík and Vestmannaeyjar are running on backup generators and hotels are packed with travellers unable to continue their journey due to road closures. Power outages in the south coast also caused hot water shortage in Hella and Hvolsvöllur. Repairs are in progress.

Services in the city were suspended – kindergartens, schools and universities were closed, as well as post offices and health care centres, but since noon, most services are back to normal. A few instances have been reported of the wind tearing roof plates off buildings and bus stop shelters from the ground, requiring search and rescue volunteers to weigh them down to prevent further damage. In the greater Reykjavík area, the wind was felt the most in Kjalarnes, where the wind blew a roof partially off a building and sundecks off the ground.

Tourists watch boats in Reykjavík marina during extreme weather
[/media-credit] Photo by Golli

On the Reykjanes peninsula, the wind in collaboration with high tides meant that tall waves crashed over residential areas, even flooding a house in Garður. A coastal street within Keflavík was closed due to tall waves crashing over the street. In Vestmannaeyjar, a boat was unmoored and later sank. Tall waves crashed over the Reykjavík harbour and boats were damaged.

Search-and-rescue volunteers had a busy night all over the country, with the first calls starting just after midnight. Few injuries have been reported, but in Hvalfjörður a man was hit by a roof plate that had been blown loose. He was transported to hospital in Reykjavík.

Search and Rescue volunteers deal with storm damages
[/media-credit] Photo by Golli

While the extreme weather is subsiding in the south, an orange alert is still in place for the whole country today and travellers should consult before setting off. A thunderstorm is expected to hit the south coast tomorrow, a rare occurrence in Iceland.

Publisher Acquitted on Most Counts of Strike Breaking

Árvakur, the publishing company that owns daily newspaper Morgunblaðið was cleared of all but one charge of strike-breaking during a journalists’ strike that took place on November 8 last year. RÚV reports that the Icelandic Journalists’ Union sued Árvakur for publishing news articles on its website during the strike. The case was heard by the Labour Court.

The November 8, 2019 journalists’ strike took place between the hours of 10am and 2pm. During that time, 23 articles were published on which the Icelandic Journalists’ Union believed constituted strike breaking. During the same time frame, five articles were written by Árvakur’s editor and CEO, Haraldur Jóhannessen. Some of the articles published during the strike had been previously uploaded to’ content management system and set to publish during the strike.

While the Labour Court did not agree that it was strike breaking for Morgunblaðið to have published articles during the strike that had been written before the work stoppage began, they did find Árvakur guilty on one charge, namely bringing in journalist Baldur Arnarson, who is a member of the VR trade union, to write news articles during the strike. The Labour Court found this to violate laws governing union and labour disputes.

The Icelandic Journalists’ Union contended that nine journalists had broken the strike by publishing articles on the website during the strike action. Árvakur countersued, saying that the Union’s strike had been unlawful in the first place, a charge that they were also acquitted of by the Labor Court.

No negotiation meeting has been called between the Icelandic Journalists’ Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SÁ), which represents Icelandic businesses since December and no new meeting has been scheduled for the future.


Increasing Number of Icelanders Believe Global Warming is a Natural Phenomenon

An increasing number of Icelanders believe that increases in the earth’s temperature over the last century are due to natural environmental changes, Kjarninn reports. A Gallup poll published on Thursday found that 23% of Icelanders now believe that global warming is a naturally occurring phenomenon, up from 14% who believed this last year. Meanwhile, 66% of Icelanders believe that global warming is man-man and due to human pollution.

This shift in attitudes can be observed across the board, but the greatest number of individuals who believe that global warming is a natural occurrence were found to be between the ages of 45 and 55.

Head of Gallup’s market research division in Iceland Ólafur Elínarson says that it is extremely important to monitor developments in people’s attitudes towards climate change and to maintain data on these shifts. “These findings show that attitudes can change in a short period of time,” he remarked.

More than half of Icelanders experience “little eco-anxiety”

Another Gallup survey was conducted this month to measure Icelanders’ level of eco-anxiety, or “anxiety associated with negative effects that people have on the environment, such as pollution or climate change.” The study found that 56% of Icelanders experience little eco-anxiety. Twenty-three per cent of Icelanders are more neutral, experiencing neither a high nor low amount of eco-anxiety.

Icelandic women were found to experience higher levels of eco-anxiety than men, with 25% of women reporting “significant eco-anxiety” as compared to 17% of men. Thirty-five per cent of people under the age of 30 reported significant eco-anxiety, as compared to 10% of people between the ages of 50 and 59 and 16% of people 60 or over. People with higher levels of education were also shown to experience more eco-anxiety: 28% of Icelanders with a university degree reported significant eco-anxiety, versus 14% who did not attend upper secondary school and 24% who finished upper secondary school but did not receive a higher education degree.

Even so, over half of the Icelandic population is concerned about the effects that climate change may have on themselves and their family and three out of four Icelanders express some level of concern about global warming.