Strike at Rio Tinto Begins Tomorrow

ISAL aluminium smelter

A planned strike of 400 employees of the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter in Straumsvík, not far from the capital, will go ahead as planned tomorrow, Friday, October 16, RÚV reports. The chairman of the Hlífar labour union says that negotiations have not been productive and employees are tired of waiting of a promised cost of living increase.

Five of the six labour unions that represent Rio Tinto employees voted to strike last week. If nothing changes, the first strike action will take place tomorrow, followed by an indefinite general strike to begin on December 1. According to Reinhold Richter, a union representative, the striking workers are demanding the same wage hikes as are outlined in the “standard of living contract” signed by unions and the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) in 2019.

Read More: Rio Tinto Considers Suspending Production at Iceland Aluminum Smelter

Rio Tinto’s employees have been without a contract since the beginning of July, although they were promised a wage increase in March, with the proviso that in order for the raise to go into effect, the company would first need to finalize new electricity agreements with Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland. The smelter failed to come to an agreement with Landsvirkjun, their contract expired, and the dispute was referred to a state mediator. This means that the promise raise been on hold.

Rio Tinto is one of the largest metal and mining corporations in the world. Its executives have long expressed dissatisfaction with its electricity prices and even raised the idea of permanently closing the smelter. They say that that high power costs have contributed to the company’s losses and are preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company.

Domestic Abuse Assistance Now Available Via Online Chat

Emergency assistance for people experiencing domestic violence is now available not only by calling Iceland’s emergency number, 112, but also via online chat on their website. This is the first time that people have been able to seek emergency assistance online. The website, 112.is, is only available in Icelandic for now but is currently being translated into both English and Polish.

The initiative is intended to make it easier for those who are experiencing domestic violence to receive the help they need, particularly those who feel unable to make a phone call or who believe that they’ve been in a violent situation too long to report it. The portal is also open to perpetrators of domestic violence seeking assistance and treatment, as well as those who are concerned that someone close to them is experiencing violence in the home.

Domestic violence increased during the first wave of COVID

The 112 chat portal was announced during the COVID-19 press conference on Thursday. As National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir explained, there was an increase in domestic violence during the first wave of the pandemic, as evidenced by a 15% increase in notifications to child protective services and a 14% in reports to police of intimate partner violence as compared to last year’s average.

In response to this, in May, Minister for Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason and Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir appointed a working group tasked with developing and coordinating measures to address domestic violence in times of economic and social distress.

Four proposals to better address domestic violence and assist survivors

The online 112 portal is one of four proposals announced by the working group in a press release on the government’s website on Thursday. A public awareness campaign about recognizing signs of domestic violence will also be launched in the winter of 2020-21 and will be based around the 112.is website. The campaign will be rolled out in phases, each of which will focus on specific groups who are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence.

The group also proposed that an online cognitive therapy programme to treat trauma be developed in collaboration with the National University Hospital’s psychiatric ward, the Directorate of Health’s National Centre for e-Health, and the Development Centre for Primary Health Care in Iceland.

Thirdly, they suggested that the parental resources available to all parents before the birth of a child and through the first 1,000 days of a child’s life be further developed. These materials should aim to strengthen parental skills so as to reduce the likeliness of neglect, abuse, and violence against children. Parents and children in vulnerable or at-risk circumstances will receive particular attention.

Lastly, the group proposed that a new electronic processing system be developed within the healthcare system, so as to improve healthcare professionals’ responses to cases of domestic violence.

Altogether, it’s expected that these measures will cost ISK 66.7 million [$478,307; € 408,816]. The working group is led by Commissioner Sigríður Björk and former Progressive Party MP and Minister for Social Affairs and Housing Eygló Harðadóttir and will continue its work through January 31, 2021.

Without Strict Measures, Up to 88,000 New Infections by Year End

COVID-19 Iceland

As many as 88,000 new COVID-19 infections could be expected in Iceland before the end of the year if, instead of gathering restrictions and stricter lockdown measures, the country opted to strive for so-called ‘herd immunity.’ This projection was among those taken from a Finnish forecast model and laid out in an article co-authored by Director of Health Alma Möller, Civil Protection and Emergency Management Division manage Víðir Reynisson, and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and published in Fréttablaðið this morning.

Per the forecast model that Alma, Víðir, and Þórólfur cite, strict gathering bans and disease prevention measures are absolutely integral to preventing a significant spike in infections in the country. Without them, the model projects that by the second half of November, as many as 3,000 people in Iceland would be diagnosed with COVID-19 every day.

Great Barrington approach ‘not viable’

This morning’s article responds to the Great Barrington Declaration, a much-debated approach to COVID-19 defence authored by three professor-epidemiologists at Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Universities respectively. This approach is now under consideration in the US, among other places. It advocates for what it calls “focused protection,” or essentially, getting rid of all lockdown procedures, aiming for herd immunity, and “adopting measures to protect the vulnerable,” such as the elderly, while vaccine development continues.

“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,” reads the Declaration. “…Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.”

It’s worth noting that in Iceland, an estimated 20% of the population would fall into the “vulnerable” category.

In their article, Alma, Víðir, and Þórólfur point out that up until just a few weeks ago, Iceland was essentially abiding by the model laid out in the Great Barrington Declaration. “Life in Iceland was almost normal until the third wave began and we had to take stricter measures in order to flatten the curve due to the stress on the healthcare system. This is an indication that the route the Great Barrington group wants to take is not viable if we want to keep the healthcare infrastructure up and running.”

‘It’s clear that the health system would not be able to cope’

The trio notes that the current infection rate is estimated to be 2.5 – 2.6. In order to achieve herd immunity, they write, “60% of the nation would need to be infected…If the infection rate were 6, then 83%. If 60% of the nation (219,000 people) become infected, then 7,000 people would need to be admitted to the hospital, around 1,750 admitted to intensive care, and 660 would die.” These projections are based on Iceland’s first wave statistics.

“If the virus were allowed to run rampant, it’s clear that the health system would not be able to cope with this many people and these numbers would be much higher,” they continue.

If hospitals were overrun by COVID-19 cases, healthcare for other serious illnesses and diseases would also suffer, Alma, Víðir, and Þórólfur write. And with so many people ill, the country’s infrastructure would languish.”The best way to be able to provide the healthcare services that our countrymen need is to keep infection down in society.”

‘Solidarity the best defence’

The trio calls for continued solidarity but is at pains to emphasize that the intention is not to silence those who have been critical of current virus-control measures. “It’s important that the nation continues to stand together—that’s how we’re going to fare the best,” they write. “This call for solidarity is not, however, a demand for uncritical debate. Quite the contrary, it’s important that different perspectives be considered when it comes to discussing limitations on civil rights. Quelling voices of dissent is only likely to tear apart that precious unity we need in these singular and difficult times. It is our unwavering opinion that level-headedness and solidarity are our best defences against this virus.”

IKEA Christmas Goat Gives It Another Go

The IKEA Christmas Goat was erected without much fanfare in Garðabær on the outskirts of Reykjavík earlier this week, mbl.is reports. The annual, ill-fated harbinger of the Christmas season has had to be placed under strict surveillance in recent years, as it is frequently a popular target for firebugs.

The Christmas Goat is based on traditional, albeit much smaller, straw Yule Goat figurines, and originated in Gävle, Sweden in 1966. IKEA in Iceland adopted the tradition in 2009. Neither the Swedish original nor its Icelandic cousin has fared terribly well over the years. The Gävle Goat has been burned to the ground or damaged 37 times. Meanwhile, the Christmas Goat in Garðabær has been subject to numerous pyromanical attacks and was successfully burned down by arsonists three times (in 2010, 2012, and 2016). It seemingly self-immolated in 2015, when it caught fire due to an electrical malfunction. But even in years when it hasn’t burned down, the Christmas Goat hasn’t fared much better: harsh winter winds have knocked it over on more than one occasion.

Last year, a spoof event on Facebook urging thousands to rush the Christmas Goat and burn it en masse led IKEA to place the doomed monument under 24-surveillance. What lies in store for the Christmas Goat this year remains to be seen, although one could easily argue that 2020 is perhaps not the best year to start being optimistic.