“These Are Black Times:” Reykjanes Hard Hit By Group Layoffs

Reykjanesbær

A total of 4,200 employees lost their jobs in group layoffs in just two days this week, RÚV reports. Thirty-six companies announced group layoffs on Thursday. The Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland, where tourism is the primary industry, has been particularly hard hit; labour leader Guðbjörg Kristmundsdóttir estimates that unemployment will exceed 30% in the region by the end of May.

Over half of the laid-off individuals, or 2,140 people, were Icelandair employees. The remaining 2,070 worked for other companies.

“In terms of the number of layoffs, this is the worst month I can remember,” said Unnur Sverrisdóttir, head of the Directorate of Labour. “About 99% of them are in the tourism sector.”

Most of the layoffs have been in the capital area and Reykjanes region.

“The outlook is really bad,” remarked Guðbjörg Kristmundsdóttir, chair of the Labour and Seamen’s Union of Keflavík (VSFK). “I think over the last two days, 400 people from my union have lost their jobs. That’s a significant proportion of a 5,000-person union. These are black times.” Guðbjörg said that her union has received little information from car rental companies and hotels in the region, which she expects will lay off additional members in the up-and-coming.

While the group layoffs of the last few days have certainly been difficult for Reykjanes locals, they are by no means the first. The Blue Lagoon, also located in Reykjanes, laid off 164 employees in late March, days after closing amidst the coronavirus crisis. Reykjanes was also hit hard by WOW air’s bankruptcy last year. Locals haven’t completely lost hope amidst the current difficulties, says Guðbjörg, but there’s a far greater degree of uncertainty now. “Now, there’s little likelihood that people who lose their jobs will get another one,” she said. “There are no jobs to be had.” Currently, unemployment in Reykjanes is around 24%, but Guðbjörg fears that it will exceed 30% by the end of May.

Max of 30 People Allowed Aboard Buses

straeto covid-19

Starting on May 4, the Ministry of Health will waive the requirement that people maintain a distance of two meters between them when travelling on public buses. Instead, a maximum of 30 riders will be allowed in vehicles at one time.

Per an announcement on the Strætó website, passengers will continue to board buses through the centre or rear doors, the better to safeguard drivers. The front of the bus will remain cordoned off for the same reason. Bus fares should be paid via smartphone app or bus card, which passengers are requested to hold up and show the driver when boarding. Although contactless payment is preferred, passengers who must pay with cash or tickets are able to do so via a designated farebox. No transfer tickets will be issued during this time, so passengers who need to switch buses mid-journey should simply inform the driver that they will be transferring and pay on the last leg of their trip.

Starting May 4, frequency will increase on Route 1 buses. Buses will run every 15 minutes from 6:35 – 8:35 am and 3:12 – 5:12 pm. The two-meter rule will remain in effect on Route 1 buses and maximum capacity will be lower than on other routes, namely a maximum of 20 people will be allowed on board at any time.

Additional buses will be added to following routes at the following times, Monday – Friday:

  • Route 6 – 7:36 from Ártún towards Hlemmur
  • Route 3 – 7:21 from Mjódd towards Hlemmur
  • Route 3 – 7:51 from Mjódd towards Hlemmur
  • Route 12 – 07:07 from Breiðhöfði/Ártún towards Skeljanes
  • Route 12 – 07:31 from Hlemmur towards Mjódd
  • Route 12 – 07:56 from Mjódd towards Hlemmur
  • Route 15 – 07:01 from Flyðrugrandi towards Reykjavegur
  • Route 15 – 07:45 from Reykjavegur towards Ártún

In addition, extra buses will be on standby during the afternoon rush hour and will be sent out on routes as needed.

Passengers are encouraged to limit their communications with other passengers, regularly sanitize their hands, cough or sneeze into the crook of their arms, and, most importantly, not ride the bus if they are feeling ill.

See the full announcement, in English, on the Strætó website here.

First May Day Without Celebrations in 97 Years

hotel workers strike Reykjavík

May 1, or International Workers’ Day, has been observed with protest marches and workers’ demonstrations in Iceland since May 1, 1923; it has been a public holiday in the country since 1972. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and prohibitions on public gatherings of over 20 people, however, in-person May Day celebrations were called off in Iceland this year for the first time in nearly a century, Vísir reports.

As such, labour organizers, unions, and workers took their demands online, with a virtual rally organized by The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of University Graduates, and the Federation of State and Municipal Employees. The rally included performances by a broad range of Icelandic musicians, including Bubbi Morthens, Auður, and the Labour Brass Band, and was broadcast from Harpa concert hall on Friday night. People were also encouraged to make May Day-related signs and post them on social media.

Union Leader Urges Solidarity

In her May Day address, ÁSI President Drífa Snædal emphasized that workers and organizers should not lose sight of either their immediate demands—unemployment benefits and basic security for all workers during the current economic and employment crisis—nor the “big demands,” namely, “equality and justice and a just society.” She also urged solidarity now more than ever.

“There’s always a danger in circumstances such as these that people find themselves in such dire straits that they start undercutting one another and taking worse jobs under worse terms,” said Drífa. “Which is why it’s of the utmost importance that we abide by the framework that we’ve set out for ourselves here in Iceland and stick to our collective bargaining agreements and terms.”

Wage Disputes and Contract Negotiations Ongoing

May Day also threw into relief several high-profile wage disputes and contract negotiations that have been ongoing in Iceland of late. On Wednesday, the Icelandic Nurses Association voted to reject the contract that was signed by their union on April 10. Icelandic nurses have been without a contract for over a year; 46% of union members supported the new contract, while 53% voted against it.

Icelandic police have also been without a contract for over a year. Unable to demonstrate and make their demands publicly on May Day, they opted to take part in a digital demonstration. “One year without a contract,” declares the video, reminding viewers that 19 years ago, police took part in a public march on April 30, 2001, when their contract with the state had lapsed. “Police are on the front lines!” continues the video. “We venture in when others take shelter. We demand wage corrections without delay!”

Efling Union members employed by five municipalities in the capital area and South Iceland will also 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 strike will affect elementary schools and home services.

Wage struggles must be allowed to continue, concluded Drífa Snædal in her May Day address, responding to criticisms of continued strike actions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “If we push everything aside because of the situation—be it a collective bargaining agreement or wage dispute—we don’t know where it will end.”

 

 

Icelandair Aims to Raise ISK 29 Billion Through Public Stock Offering

icelandair757

Icelandair hopes to raise up to USD 200 million [ISK 29 billion; €1.82 million] in equity through a public stock offering in June. The company’s board of directors announced their intentions, which they say is “an important part of the financial restructuring of Icelandair Group,” in a statement sent to the Icelandic Stock market on Thursday night.

If approved at the company’s shareholders’ meeting in May, the stock offering would “enable the Board to increase the share capital of the Company by up to 30,000 million new shares,” reads the statement. “The Board further proposes that current shareholders waive their pre-emptive rights to the new shares. The public, along with other investors, will thereby be given the opportunity to subscribe to new shares in the Company. Furthermore, the Board will have unilateral authority to determine the allocation of new shares, but efforts will made to provide full allotment to existing shareholders and employees.”

See Also: Icelandair Lays Off Record 2,000 Employees

The announcement comes in the wake Icelandair laying off 2,000 employees on Tuesday in the single largest layoff in Icelandic history.

“Icelandair Group has been in close contact with the Icelandic Government” during its restructuring process, concludes Thursday’s statement, which also notes that the Icelandic government “is willing to consider granting the Company a credit line or providing a guarantee for such credit line conditioned upon the completion of the share offering.”

Icelandair will publicly announce the price of the new shares, as well as related terms and conditions, following the proposal’s presumed approval at its upcoming shareholders’ meeting.

Hungry for More

When opening acclaimed restaurant Agern in New York, Gunnar Karl Gíslason tasted twenty different types of butter before he found one he liked. His pastry chefs sourced several kinds of organic milk because the ice creams made from regular milk tasted off to him. He never did end up finding lamb that met his standards in the US, though he found a single farm in the mountains of Pennsylvania whose grass-fed sheep he deemed adequate to serve his guests. But in Reykjavík, he’ll scarf down the local classic – a hot dog with ‘everything:’ crispy fried onion, fresh onion, mustard, remoulade, and ketchup – like the Akureyri-raised country boy he is. There’s a catch though: he’ll only get one from certain shops where they heat the sausages the way he likes them and serve the right kind of ketchup.

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Western promises

While most people today are very much aware of Europe’s exploration and colony building in what was optimistically called the New World, you would be forgiven for not knowing that Icelanders founded a self-governing colony in the Americas as well. New Iceland was established on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba in the late 19th century, beginning with the settlement of Gimli, named after “the most beautiful place on Earth” in Norse mythology. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the entire population of Iceland emigrated to North America over the four decades that followed.

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Staging stories

At the time of our interview, Brynhildur Guðjónsdóttir has been the director of the Reykjavík City Theatre for exactly five days. She’s known that the job was hers for only ten days: the former director left before her four-year term was over and asked to be released immediately. As I congratulate her and ask how it’s going, her first reaction is the following: “Well, my calendar is full, that’s for sure.” Despite the busy times ahead, the development is a positive one. “There’s a lot of action and movement in Iceland’s theatre life. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.”

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Proposal to Protect Geysir Area a “Cause for Celebration”

Geyser

Earlier this year, the Environment Agency of Iceland submitted a proposal to declare the Geysir region a protected area. The deadline for comment on the proposal passed on April 23. Among the aims of the proposal is to preserve the area’s unique geological formations. The Icelandic Environmental Association (Landvernd) has announced its support for the proposal.

Geysir

The geothermal area of Haukadalur Valley, in southwest Iceland, is home to the hot spring Geysir (The English word geyser derives from Geysir) along with more than 40 other smaller hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.

Despite being an integral part of Iceland’s Golden Circle (the most popular tourist route in Iceland), the Geyser area has not enjoyed protected status. This means, among other things, that the Environment Agency of Iceland is not responsible for ensuring the minimum safety of visiting tourists.

In January, the Environment Agency of Iceland submitted a proposal to grant protected status to the Geysir area.

Preservation, scientific research, tourism

According to the Agency, the aim of the declaration is to preserve the area’s unique geological formations and to ensure that visitors may continue to visit the area without negatively impacting the environment: “… the area is of tremendous educational and scientific value, both locally and globally. The protected status will also help ensure the future use of the area by locals and tourists and that it is capable of receiving the thousands of guests who visit every year.”

The proposal forms a part of the government’s effort to extend protected status to vulnerable sites in Iceland in accordance with the government agreement. The proposal is submitted in accordance with Article 39 of Act No. 60/2013. The proposal was authored by a workgroup comprised of representatives from the Environment Agency of Iceland, the Bláskógabyggð Municipality, and the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources.

Should have been done “decades ago”

On April 22, the Icelandic Environmental Association announced its support for the proposal. The Union calls the proposal a cause for celebration: “Granting protected status to the Geysir area is long overdue. It’s actually quite astonishing that protected status wasn’t granted decades ago. It will ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the magnificent beauty and power of the Geysir area for the foreseeable future.”