Iceland’s National Parks Prepare to Welcome Local Tourists This Summer

reykjadalur iceland hveragerði

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected international travel, for the time being, and as a result, more Icelanders will spend their summer vacation travelling domestically. Hákon Ásgeirsson of the Environment Agency of Iceland says park wardens are preparing to welcome local tourists this summer with guided educational hikes in protected areas across the country. Less tourist traffic this spring means areas particularly vulnerable during the thawing season are getting a chance to recover from strain in recent years.

Guided hikes for families and groups

“We are preparing ourselves to give Icelanders a warm welcome this summer,” says Hákon. “The Environment Agency is starting an initiative to have more educational programming in protected areas, so that wardens can welcome Icelanders and also offer them educational hikes tailored to families and different groups.”

The programme is currently in the works with more specifics to be announced in mid-May, says Hákon. “There will be regular programming all through the summer in protected areas across the whole country.”

With less traffic, soil and vegetation recover

The Road and Coastal Administration has begun its yearly spring closures of highland roads in order to protect both roadways and budding vegetation. Spring is the most challenging season in vulnerable areas, explains Hákon, as soil is thawing, making it waterlogged and vulnerable to damage from cars and foot traffic. Fjaðrágljúfur canyon in South Iceland is one area where increased traffic has led to closures in recent years. “There is almost no traffic at the moment in Fjaðrárgljúfur, so it will likely not need to be closed. There is so little traffic that it is recovering naturally.”

It’s a recovery that could be seen in many areas across Iceland, if international travel restrictions continue. “There will likely be less pressure on certain areas from tourists.”

Efling Workers Resume Strike Next Week, Affecting Schools

Efling strike Reykjavík

Efling Union workers employed by five municipalities in the capital area and South Iceland will resume striking on Tuesday, May 5. The members working for the municipalities of Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus voted overwhelmingly in support of strike action. The union’s negotiation committee postponed strike action during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but announced that the strike would be voted on again after Easter.

“The members of Efling who work for these municipalities demand an agreement with comparable benefits as those found in agreements between Efling and the City of Reykjavik and the government of Iceland,” reads a statement on Efling’s website. Efling members working for the City of Reykjavík reached an agreement with the municipality last month following a three-week strike that affected preschools and welfare services in the capital.

All members of Efling Union working for the five municipalities will stop work indefinitely on Tuesday, May 5, the day after COVID-19 restrictions are loosened and schools return from reduced to regular programming. The strike will affect elementary schools and home services.

Voter turnout among Efling members was high, with 65% of eligible members voting on the strike. A notable 89% voted in favour of a strike in elementary schools and 88% voted in favour of a strike in other workplaces.

“These are incredible results. They show amazing courage, the will to fight and the unity of our members. Low wage workers are going to get the recognition that society cannot function without them. Pandemic or not – The members of Efling will not allow themselves to be forced into submission,” said Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chairman of Efling.

Icelandair Lays Off Record 2,000 Employees

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Icelandair laid off over 2,000 employees yesterday, representing the vast majority of their staff. RÚV reports that nearly 900 of the airline’s 940 flight attendants have been let go, as well as 421 pilots, with only 26 pilots remaining in the company’s ranks. It is the biggest mass layoff in Icelandic history, exceeding the number of layoffs resulting from WOW air’s bankruptcy last year (both direct and indirect).

At the beginning of March, Icelandair had 3,400 employees. The airline laid off 240 at the end of March. The company’s remaining staff is either subject to a reduced employment ratio or salary cuts.

Minimal operations continue

The Icelandic government made a short-term contract with Icelandair to sponsor a number of flights to London, Stockholm, and Boston, which ends May 5. The airline also recently signed a contract to operate 45 cargo flights from Shanghai, China to Germany and the US.

Opposition MPs have criticised the government for not doing more to support the airline, which many consider to provide an essential service. Government ministers have pointed to the airline and its shareholders as responsible for the company.

Icelandair CEO hopes to rehire staff in future

Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason expressed his hope that the company would be able to rehire the staff soon. “Of course we hope so, these are all great employees and when the country starts to rise again and markets open, then we will be ready to jump in […] and we hope it will happen sooner rather than later, but at this point in time we cannot make any promises when and how that will happen.”