Police Intervenes in Efling Strike Outside Fosshótel

Fosshótel strike

The police were called to the Fosshótel hotel in Reykjavík today. Representatives of the hotel accused Efling’s strike guards of threats. The union maintains that the hotel authorities are using force to cover up strike violations.

Efling accuses Íslandshótel of strike violations

This afternoon, the Íslandshótel hotel chain announced that strike guards from the Efling union had threatened non-Efling hotel employees, alongside other employees, who were doing their jobs, RÚV reports. “With this behaviour, Efling has far exceeded normal limits, and in light of the measures, the representatives of Íslandshótel have now decided not to accommodate further visits by representatives of Efling,” a statement by Íslandshótel notes.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, told RÚV that a group of 7-9 people arrived at the Fosshótel hotel at lunchtime in order to monitor the ongoing strikes. The group was prevented from entering the hotel by the hotel staff, who told union representatives that only two people were allowed into the hotel at a time. Sólveig maintained that it was not possible to manage a strike in such a large hotel with only two people. Protests ensued. In a statement from Efling later this afternoon, the union stated that the purpose of the company was “obviously to cover up strike violations,” which Efling’s strike guards witnessed.

The union also accused a security guard of having pushed strikers at Grand Hotel off the premises by force. “The company completely rejects the untruths that Íslandshótel have sent to the media today, that is, that Efling’s strike guards have made unspecified ‘threats.’ This is pure fabrication and typical of the company’s misleading information to its employees and the public over the past week.”

Protests outside Fosshótel

A reporter from RÚV has followed the hotel strikes closely. The reporter stated that a group of about thirty people from the Efling union arrived at the Fosshótel hotel in order to protest. The representatives of the hotel considered these actions a bit extreme. The doors of the hotel were locked, and patrons experienced some difficulty entering the hotel. The hotel staff later called the police.

After negotiations, mediated by the Association of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), five Efling members were allowed to enter the hotel on the condition that the rest of the group left the premises. According to a statement from Íslandshotel, it was not possible to agree to the group’s request for such a large number of strike guards as initially planned, as guests deserved peace and privacy – despite the strikes.

Making It Work

The uphill battle for equality in the workplace and technology’s latest solutions

It’s been 43 years since Lilly Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton solved the equality issue in the seminal film 9 to 5, but somehow, we constantly find ourselves running into the same old stumbling blocks, and even some new and unexpected ones. Venture capital investments are only a tiny fraction of the business world but they are indicative of a larger issue. No matter how you slice it, women still aren’t on equal footing with men in the workplace. Despite the situation, plenty of things have changed since 1980, including attitudes towards inequality as an issue. Women are a much larger part of the workforce and they’re putting in the effort to change the game.

Someone recently tweeted about a relatively young Icelandic tech company that’d just gotten a large investment. When someone jokingly replied asking where a woman could go to find such a large sum of money, the jesting tone was lost on the original tweeter who replied that investments like this are the result of years of hard work, something that many men and women can and do earn. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? 

Except that it’s mostly men. In 2022, a report found that women-led teams accounted for 1.1 % of companies that received funding from venture capital funds. And reader – if you, like me, hoped that that number is so low because most of the teams are mixed, I regret to inform you that mixed teams received just over 10% of the funds. 88.7% of VC funding goes to all-male teams of founders. 

PayAnalytics – Working with international companies to evaluate salaries and positions for people of all genders and origins.

PayAnalytics founder Margrét Bjarnadóttir has a background in operation research. Her Ph.D. focused on how we can use data and mathematical models to support decision-making. When a COO at an Icelandic bank complained about the lack of resources to close the pay gap where they worked, Margrét was the right person to hear them, at the right time. Two years earlier, the bank had realised the extent of their pay gap and vowed to make changes. Their goal was to incorporate gender equality into all hiring processes and promotions. When they assessed progress at the end of those two years, nothing had changed. For Margrét, this was the perfect research opportunity, and she created her prototype of a mathematical model that would not only analyse the extent of the pay gap, taking into account different positions and responsibilities but also provide the solution to closing the gap. When her calculations worked, providing the bank with the tools they needed to implement change, the foundation was laid for Pay Analytics. Today, the company has clients in more than 50 countries, the largest of which comprises hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide.

Since its beginnings in 2016 when the idea for PayAnalytics won the entrepreneurial competition Gulleggið, Margrét has found the conversation regarding the pay gap is changing rapidly. “When we were starting out, we needed to explain to investors that there were companies that needed this kind of service, but we donʼt anymore. There’s been an avalanche of rules and regulations all over the world requiring companies to measure pay gaps and release the results. They differ from country to country but in the EU, for instance, when you advertise a position you will soon be required to also advertise the pay range.”

When the percentage of VC funding allocated to women-led teams comes up, Margrét nods sympathetically. While acknowledging that every company’s trajectory is different, she recognises the stories of investors asking defensive questions and focusing on risks rather than potential successes when talking to women. “By now, I can send the guys out to investor meetings,” she states jokingly, referring to the CEO and the CFO. On a more serious note, she continues: “The pay gap and lack of investment in female-led companies come from the same root: implicit bias. We all have it and it taints our decision-making,” Margrét adds. Her approach is to fight bias with data. “Documentation also helps, such as writing down why people get raises. Research shows that having to provide neutral descriptions of why people get raises lessens the pay gap.”

Every successful idea raises the question: Why hasn’t someone done this before? When I pose the question to Margrét, she refers to the cultural environment. “It’s not a coincidence that we’re an Icelandic company. Iceland has always led the way in this regard. Gender equality is a topic that people of all genders in the country care about. The issue was on people’s radar much sooner than in other countries.”

For Margrét, we’re in a unique position to tackle inequality. “We’ve never talked this much about diversity, inclusion, and equity. And the regulations and legislation are being put into place to back it up.”

Empower Now – Digital consultation working to create inclusive workplace culture.

While Pay Analytics focus on financial equality, Empower Now offers a holistic DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) solution to develop people-friendly workplace cultures. This extends beyond finances to areas including employee experience, public perception, recruitment processes, parental leave, diversity, and team surveying. But the first step is to assess the current status. Sigyn Jónsdóttir is the CTO of Empower Now and in her opinion, there is still much work to be done. “The fact is that most workplaces can and should do better,” she tells me. Once Empower Now has analysed the situation and isolated the issues, they provide a solution to the challenges that come up, based on measuring, goal setting, and education. “We offer micro-learning modules on DEI topics that leave an impact. An easy example would be our short videos in mobile format that the employees can choose to watch anytime, so people gain perspective and education, which they can then apply in real life.”

Founders Dögg and Þórey have been working as DEI  consultants for years but in-person consultation is impossible to scale up to an international level. The scalability comes in taking the process digital. 

Sigyn explains further: “If a scandal occurs, many issues can arise, from losing valuable employees due to completely preventable bias, to affecting bottom lines, like the company’s stock tanking. Since #metoo, they’ve found that old-fashioned crisis management practices, like simply firing a CEO, don’t necessarily repair their brand image or employee trust. Nor correct behaviour and prevent it from happening again. Issues of discrimination or bias are never down to one person. Even if the issue stemmed from a single person, it is still down to culture. It becomes a scandal when it’s not immediately handled and corrected properly. If something like this has been happening at your company, people know that it’s an issue with the workplace culture. But companies are a little lost on how to correct issues when they arise and prevent them from happening in the first place. That’s where we come in.”

There aren’t many men working in the gender equality business and finding out that it was mostly women cleaning up misogyny’s messes was a glum start to my research. Sigyn, however, has a more uplifting take. “Often, we get our foot in the door because a person who has experienced inequality gets us involved, but it’s important to us that it doesn’t fall on victims of discrimination to get Empower Now integrated into their workplace. Senior leaders who want to create equitable companies need to take action. The pressure is usually on groups who are the most vulnerable to bias to fix matters, which creates an unnecessary additional burden. But they also are often the greatest drivers of change.” According to Sigyn, it makes sense for those who are susceptible to discrimination to have a voice in fixing it. “That shouldn’t change. But they can’t be tasked with the responsibility of fixing these problems. People in a position of power should focus on being allies to those with less power and support their work.” 

Sigyn’s optimism is only slightly dampened at the mention of the 1.1% figure. “A recent study from Harvard Business Review shows that when pitching to VCs, men tend to get progressive questions focusing on potential gains, while women get more defensive questions focusing on risk and potential losses,” she states. “A progressive question might be something like: How do you plan to monetise this? While a similar defensive question would be: How long will it take you to break even?” Interestingly, she adds that there doesn’t seem to be a difference if it’s a man or a woman posing the questions. A dearth of women presenting their ideas can also be explained by the state of the startup world: “The startup scene has been known for its ‘bro’ culture, and that’s not a culture that supports DEI in any way.”

Empower Now is the rare instance when a women-led team gets funding based on an idea, without presenting a ready-made prototype. “Usually, teams have to be much further along in product development to get an investment. I hope that with more funds being available at the very early stages of a company’s development, that things might be changing. Unfortunately, I think, given the news in the last weeks about investments in women-led teams globally being down in 2022, it may only be an aberration.” In Sigyn’s opinion, things are changing for the better, but she has to admit the statistics don’t support her optimism. Yet.

GemmaQ is working on a gender diversity index for investment professionals, based on the mounting evidence that gender equality is not only a question of equality but can also be an indicator of a lucrative business. 

Freyja Þórarinsdóttir is the founder of GemmaQ, an index which automatically rates publicly traded companies according to management diversity. The reason why investors should focus on companies dedicated to equality isn’t just moral or ethical. According to Freyja, investing in equality is good business: “There’s a correlation between diversity and an above average profitability. Although we don’t have evidence of causation, multiple studies have shown us that companies with greater representation of women in corporate leadership are more likely to outperform those with less diverse leadership.”

 “First and foremost, there’s a marketing aspect to being able to state publicly that your fund is only investing in companies who’ve got it together when it comes to equality and to be able to back it up with data,” Freyja states. Before launching GemmaQ, she was with the Merrill Lynch wealth management division of Bank of America in Seattle and a director and team leader at the Central Bank of Iceland. In addition to her degrees in law and political science, Freyja received a Master’s in Economic Policy Management from Columbia University. Her work in asset management showed her that besides wanting a return on their investment, clients wanted to know where their money went and if it was making a difference. While there was a distinct generational shift in clients’ sense of responsibility, it’s clear that pension funds, for example, are set on investing in a more responsible way, as are large national funds such as the Norwegian oil fund and Japanese pension funds. 

GemmaQ is a technical solution that gathers public information on companies’ management diversity and monitors changes that would jeopardise it. Officially started in 2019, the project has earlier roots as Freyja’s research project at Columbia University. With 15 years of diversity data at her disposal, Freyja explains that while things are looking up, attitude-wise, the numbers are still bleak.

 “Gender Lens, the GemmaQ Fortune 500 index, tracks the gender leadership balance among Fortune 500 companies. It shows that women represent only 10.2% of Fortune 500 companies CEOs, and just 6.6% of board chairs today. With five new women taking on CEO roles in January 2023, this is becoming a record year with women in leadership roles”. 

 

In the US, legislation differs significantly by state. Some states have required gender quotas on company boards, while some companies are required to list their gender ratios publicly. In some states, however, there are no regulations at all. “Even though there are differences between companies in the same sector depending on their location, we are seeing the same trend across states,” Freyja tells me. “Women are being promoted at far lower rates to leadership roles than men. The rate of change is unacceptably slow.” 

Heima – An app that organises housework and family life, splitting tasks equally between family members, ensuring an equal division of labour while removing the mental load of managing the home.

The business world doesn’t exist in a bubble. And in spite of the recent explosion of the fintech sector, it is still run by humans, not robots. It’s not enough to make sure the business world is paying people of all genders equally, providing a healthy environment, and diversifying their management teams if the pressure of housework and managing the home doubles their workload when compared with men. That’s how women get burnt out. According to Alma Dóra Ríkarðsdóttir and Sigurlaug Guðrún Jóhannsdóttir, their app will not only lessen the workload in the home but also make your relationship better. “We believe the key to happy family life is to work well together and communicate well. We went with a software solution, a management tool that enables people to cooperate harmoniously, much like work management tools operate in the workplace.” Data suggest that women do 75% of housework worldwide which negatively impacts their personal and professional development. Alma continues: “The idea was inspired by my work as a specialist in gender equality in the Prime Ministry. We were mapping the major equality issues in Iceland and the world, and the unequal division of housework is a foundational issue. If we’re going to have equal pay and equal opportunities, we need to start at home and make this right.” When introducing their idea, Alma and Sigurlaug had to start at the very beginning, by explaining the concept of the mental load of managing housework, sometimes referred to as the third shift: “The invisible managerial work in the home that’s less tangible than simply washing the dishes or cleaning floors. We’re bringing that unseen work to the surface.” In Iceland, VR, Iceland’s largest trade union, launched a national campaign to introduce the idea to people. “We do sometimes have to explain the concept of the mental load, especially when talking to people from outside of Iceland. It’s becoming better known worldwide, but in Iceland, everyone knows what it is, following VR’s campaign. Before, we would have to introduce the concept to people doing user reviews. Now, people bring it up in the first place,” Alma says.

While younger people are generally more excited about technological solutions, in the case of Heima, it makes perfect sense. “We’re focusing on younger people, who might have young children. People who’ve been living together for decades have their own routine that they’ve settled with their partner and it might not need disrupting. We’re doing this for the people in the process of creating their housework division and settling their routine. People who want more equality, less hassle, and more joy in the home.” According to Alma, tension over housework is the third most common cause of divorce worldwide, so there’s a lot to be gained.

On the issue of finding funding, the developers behind Heima have received initial funding. Now they are marketing their concept to investors and developing their business plan for their second round. Alma is hesitant to make generalisations about the startup environment. “What I can say is that I was working for the Ministry of Industry and Innovation, looking into funding for women, and what I found was that very often, when assessing the success of innovation projects, what’s looked at are the results, the successes, the companies that have made it through and been successful. And men are much more heavily represented. So if your idea of a perfect entrepreneur is Mark Zuckerberg, women will always be further from the goal than men.”

Startups are looking towards the future, trying to be the first to decipher what it may hold, being the first to introduce new solutions and technology into our lives. But somehow, when it comes to business, they keep betting on the exact same type over and over again. “They’re trying to make you fit into a male entrepreneur cookie cutter instead of acknowledging that women bring different things to the table. I think that plays a part. Also, many funds talk a lot about a funnel problem, that the percentage of women who receive funding represents the percentage of women that approach them, but it has been demonstrated that funds who make an effort to highlight women and make sure women know about them and that they have access to them have a higher proportion of women in their portfolio. So it’s not a funnel problem, it’s a question of accessibility.” While funds are in the end only responsible for maximising the return on their investment, Alma maintains that the singular approach to finding projects likely to succeed is limiting their scope. “We know that women tend to be more conservative in their estimations of success than men are. So instead of pushing them to create more unrealistic business plans, you could factor that into your calculations, while keeping in mind that men’s goals are likely to be unattainable.”

Finally, the women behind Heima arenʼt afraid to state that they’re not doing this just to serve their ideals. “We’re not afraid to say that this is a for-profit company. We intend to give our investors a return on their investment. We want to find a way to get our solution to as many people as possible.” That’s how they make their mark. “With money, you can scale up, you can enter more markets, introduce your solution to more people and have a bigger effect. We can give our app to the thousand people on our mailing list and that would have an effect but we could also try to get it to a million people in two years and that will have a bigger impact.”

Tall Tales and Treacherous Waters

Útivera Ganga Náttúra Gengið frá Aðalvík að Hesteyri og til baka

The 17th-century voyage 

of Jón the India Traveller

Christian IV was King of Denmark and Norway from the age of 11 until his death aged 71 in 1648. Contemporaries described him as above average height, most often dressed in French fashion, and a true warrior by nature. Christian was known as a plucky, hard-drinking man of grim wit and vision. His domestic reforms brought a level of stability and wealth to the Danish Kingdom virtually unmatched elsewhere in Europe. Nevertheless, towards the end of his reign, the Danish King was a broken man. Christian’s obsession with evil spirits and witchcraft led to numerous brutal public executions throughout his kingdom, including 21 Icelanders. He also brought true disaster upon his kingdom by leading Denmark into the Thirty Years’ War, one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history that drained the Crown’s coffers, undermined the economy, and cost the kingdom large swaths of territory. As a result, absolute monarchy was abolished and the king was forced to share power with parliament.

On a bright May morning in 1679, an 85-year-old widower passed away in his sleep after a long illness. He had lived a full life and was loved and highly respected, well satisfied with his long life and fortuitous relationship with his God. As the burden of age weighed on him ever more, Jón Ólafsson of Eyrardalur farm, situated in Álftafjörður in the Westfjords, had given up his daily chores as a farmer and dedicated his remaining time to educating young people in reading and writing full time.  Throughout his long life, Jón Ólafsson was known as more than a faithful Christian, farmer, and beloved teacher. In a time before television, radio or even printing presses – when even dancing was illegal – 17th-century Icelanders craved a well-told story. He was a storyteller without equal; he was Jón Ólafsson, the “India Traveller.” 

Although impoverished Icelandic society had benefitted from growing international trade, better ships, and improved fishing techniques, the early 1600s were aptly dubbed the “torture years.” It was an abnormally cold period fraught with tragedy. Various diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox, and the plague exacerbated by poor nutrition killed thousands annually, limiting Iceland’s population under some 50,000 souls. An average adult could expect to live between 40-45 years and the infant mortality rate was atrociously high. Jón’s parents lost 11 of their 14 children. When he was just seven years old, Jón’s father died of dysentery. 

Much of the economic woe that Iceland suffered at this time was exacerbated by a strict monopoly on all trade that kept prices high and supplies of often poor quality. The Danish-Norwegian Crown enacted the Danish-Icelandic Trade Monopoly in 1602 to support Danish merchants, increasing the wealth and power of the King of Denmark to the detriment of their Icelandic colony. Nevertheless, illicit trading flourished. 


ENGLAND

In the early summer of 1615, a 50-tonne English freight ship that had been blown off course ended up in the vicinity of Jón’s homestead near Ísafjörður, where he lived with his mother and two siblings. At the age of 22, Jón Ólafsson decided he wanted to see the world beyond Iceland’s rocky shores. He had two distinct sides to his character; strong in his Christian faith but also unusually fearless and adventurous. In a small boat, Jón and a few of his companions rowed over to the English vessel. Despite the language differences, Jón managed to negotiate passage for himself to England, trading a substantial quantity of homespun wool for the journey, Iceland’s main currency at the time. After a tearful goodbye to his mother, they set sail on June 23. Jón had brought more than 200 kilos of dried cod and a few barrels of fish oil, with which he hoped to finance his adventure, most of which was lost overboard in one of the frequent storms the ship encountered. During the seven-week voyage, Jón befriended the crew, enabling him to acquire English very quickly and quite fluently. Disembarking on August 11 in Harwich, near the coastal city of Ipswich, Jón was surprised to see how many coal ships were constantly coming and going. At this time, England was rapidly expanding coal production, which would become the dynamo that powered the industrial revolution and would make Britain a global superpower. James I was king and England was thriving economically and blossoming culturally.

Once in England, Jón was quick to form friendly relations with the locals and was twice offered bountiful employment which he kindly refused, explaining that Iceland’s colonial capital of Copenhagen was his ultimate goal. Before he could find a way to Denmark, Jón visited Shakespearean London and was astounded by its beauty and sheer size; the dozens of bridges and hundreds of churches including the imposing bulk of Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose spires towered over the great city at nearly 150 metres high. Best of all was the music; pounding drums, pipe organs, and soaring trumpets utterly captivated Jón, who came from a country almost completely devoid of musical instruments. Jón soon ran into Danish sailors who were serving on a royal warship bringing horses as a gift from Danish King Christian IV to James I, his brother-in-law . He was offered passage aboard the Danish warship, finally arriving in Copenhagen a few days later, months after his departure from Iceland.

While wandering the outskirts of Tranquebar, India on a day of leave from their duties, Jón and his mates encountered a massive cobra that terrified a local village and allowed Jón to demonstrate his courage. “The beast was three-coloured; black, white, and grey. The sting or bite of this kind of serpent is so poisonous that few survive it.” A King Cobra such as this one can grow up to nearly 6 metres in length and is the world’s largest venomous snake. Seven crew members engaged and fought the giant snake. “His movements were both swift and fierce, and dire injury would be all but certain if he managed to strike us, either by his poison breath or by the point near the end of his tongue, with which he stings many a man to death.” After most of his friends gave up or ran away from the fight Jón found himself alone in pursuit of the mighty beast. “My blood was up. I was entirely set on overcoming the serpent if God would grant me victory.” The giant of a cobra first attempted to evade Jón: “He fled into a large bush, forcing his way into it so violently that the whole thicket trembled and shook, as did the earth under our feet. Suddenly he rose and came straight for me, fiercely at great speed; raising his head high above the ground while his tail rattled ominously. The huge snake was raging against me with much hissing and puffing so that it seemed as if there was blue smoke all around him. I was not terrified either of the massive snake nor of his cruel look, but my comrades cried aloud and were sorely frightened. I brandished my broadsword with the strength of my two arms so mightily that the others were surprised, just then the serpent prepared to strike me so I hewed at him with all the force God had given me. I was about two paces from his head, which I cut clean off with one fell swoop.” Although vanquished, Jón thought the beheaded King Cobra might still represent a threat. “I stepped at once between the two pieces of the serpent, so that it should not join together again, about which the Indians had warned me.”

COPENHAGEN

Jón was fascinated by 17th-century Copenhagen’s castles, towers, fortresses, churches, and trading halls. Elegant stone buildings with genuine glass windows were everywhere, a novelty to Jón who had spent his life in dark, earthen-floored dwellings of turf and raw stone. Sailors and soldiers, merchants and craftsmen, musicians and beggars crowded the streets and marketplaces, and Danish horses were enormous in comparison to Iceland’s squatter breed. The flavours and aromas of the food surprised him the most, including pork sausages, baked bread, and sweet pastries – all of which were virtually unknown in his native land. Jón had lost much of his dried cod and fish oil cargo and badly needed money so he got a job combing horses at the king’s stable. A few weeks later, Jón joined King Christian IV’s army as an artilleryman. The job required discipline and technical knowledge and was relatively well-paid. Best of all, Jón’s true passion – travel – was a fundamental part of serving in the king’s army. 

According to Jón’s tales, he was incredibly successful in forging friendships with all manner of people, including many of his superior officers and even the King of Denmark. One day while serving as a gunner aboard a Danish Royal navy vessel, Jón was ordered to present himself to the king. Christian IV was curious about his faraway colonial subject and surprised to learn that Icelanders were serving on his ship. When he met the king, rather than bowing and scraping, Jón looked the Danish monarch straight in the eyes, addressing him with due respect but speaking as an equal, which charmed the king. The fact Jón could read and write was praised, as literacy was not common at the time. The king asked how he had gotten to Denmark. Jón decided to tell the king the flat truth: that he had illegally bartered with an English captain for passage to Europe. The king asked why Icelanders would have anything to do with the English, to which Jón replied that trading with foreigners was a matter of survival. Jón’s brave sincerity impressed the king, who rewarded his honesty with large quantities of ale. 

However good Jón’s relations were with most of his superior officers, he was treated no better than an ordinary gunner whenever he misbehaved. For the infraction of arriving late to his watch, Jón was arrested and locked in the infamous ‘blue tower’ jail, and summarily sentenced to death by hanging. Despite the direness of his situation, he did not panic or lose hope. When the king caught word of Jón’s death sentence, he pardoned him and personally saw to his release, saying with a smile, “Look after yourself better, dear Jón!”

As a well-trained naval gunner, Jón served on board a Royal Danish-Norwegian Navy vessel during a military conflict between the Kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden. King Christian IV of Denmark always longed for action and often followed his warships into war despite the risk to his safety. The skirmish with the Swedes was raging and both sides suffered enormous casualties. After a harrowing attack, the Danes were on the verge of defeat and attempted to surrender. The enraged Swedes refused to acknowledge the white flag and advanced hard; they wanted nothing less than to capture or kill the meddlesome Danish King. 

Many of the Danish soldiers were dead or wounded including the king’s guard; leaving the monarch alone and vulnerable. Few of the oil lamps aboard remained intact and the interior of the ship was dim and disorienting. With his gunpowder spent, Jón’s cannons were at last silent. Jón could hear a small number of Swedish marines attempting to board the Danish warship. Recognising the direness of the situation, he desperately rushed to find the king, pledging to protect him with his life. He found the ruler alone but in a defiant mood. Suddenly, a Swedish soldier surprised them and slashed at the king with his sword, hitting him on the side of the head and injuring his ear. His head was bleeding profusely and the shocked king fainted, falling on his side. The Swedish soldier cursed the darkness as he stabbed and swung his sword about the cabin in search of his royal quarry. Jón saw an opportunity to turn the tables on the Swede. He jumped to his feet from the shadows and with his remaining strength, thrust his sword through the soldier’s chest. When all was at last quiet, Jón hauled the unconscious Christian IV to a safer place, staying with the king until passing out himself, exhausted and wounded from the fray. Meanwhile, the damaged Danish ship managed to silently withdraw to safety. After this dramatic episode, it was said that the king held his Icelandic gunner in high esteem, for which Jón would later be very thankful.

INDIA

Following the success of the Portuguese and Dutch colonies in India, Christian IV sent a delegation to the subcontinent in 1618 to found a military outpost and lucrative trading colony. Imported spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper would fetch ten times their cost in India. In late 1620, after two years of negotiations with a local ruler, a trade agreement with the Danish East India Company was established and Denmark’s first colony in southern India was officially founded. When Jón was offered to serve as an artilleryman for a two-year stint in the Indian colony he jumped at the opportunity. In addition to the ships’ crews, there were administrators, diplomats, merchants, barbers, priests, carpenters, sail-makers, and soldiers like Jón aboard. The 16-week journey took the fleet of four Danish warships down the Atlantic coast of Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean, making resupply stops in the Comoro Islands, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka before finally finishing their journey in the southern Indian town of Tranquebar, where the Danish fortress of Dansborg had recently been erected. While the trip had been relatively uneventful and Jón remained in good health, many had died on the voyage, including a fellow Icelander and close friend of Jón’s. Scurvy due to poor nutrition, diseases such as dysentery, and accidents killed up to 15% of the crew and passengers, but this loss was considered acceptable at the time.

During a stop in the Comoro Islands, Jón came across unfamiliar but delicious fruit. “No fruit was ripe at that time of year except pomerans [red oranges] and bonanzers [bananas] of which the natives took a few bunches. These grew in their fruit gardens, 30-40 together, they are about the size of a guillemot [a sea-bird eaten or used as fuel in Iceland in Jón’s time] hung up to dry and are especially good fruit, refreshing and of a good taste as if there was fat in it; they are also excellent to eat on bread,” he wrote of the tasty novelty.

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BACK TO DENMARK

After 14 months of military service in India, Jón’s tour of duty was completed and he boarded The Pearl, a Danish naval frigate, in the autumn of 1624 for what would be a terrible journey back to Denmark. When the cannon he was loading unexpectedly exploded, blasting him off the deck of the ship, he was badly injured. Artillerymen in this time were often killed in such accidents, but Jón miraculously survived despite being nearly drowned, losing several fingers on both hands, and getting scorched by gunpowder over much of his abdomen. In the sickbay, the barber who served as a surgeon wanted to bleed Jón, the standard treatment for most ailments, but he was already haemorrhaging so much blood that it was deemed unnecessary. Jón wisely refused to let six men sit on him, also a standard procedure, during the amputation of two more fingers. After nine weeks, despite poor hygiene and absurd theories about healing, Jón was able to stand. Five weeks later, he was more or less recovered, although his injuries would prevent him from ever serving as an artilleryman again. 

Unfortunately, this tragic episode was merely the beginning of the crew’s troubles. Once The Pearl passed the Cape and reached the Atlantic, she encountered fierce storms and unusually rough seas that lasted for 12 weeks. Treacherous storms flooded the ship and ruined much of their food supplies. Fresh water quickly became scarce. Any shipmate caught stealing water would suffer the death penalty. As their hunger worsened, the cook suggested they eat the ship’s cat, but too many baulked at the idea. Violent gales and powerful storms broke off two of the ship’s three masts and her rudder. As The Pearl mostly drifted northward, the slowly starving crew began to fall ill and die. After months of agony, the crew of the stricken warship, at last, spotted the south coast of Ireland and were towed into harbour. The captain and half the crew had perished, but Jón somehow pulled through. The Danish warship was repaired and resupplied over the coming weeks while the surviving crew of The Pearl recovered.

Back in Copenhagen, Jón was offered a teaching position at the Danish naval college but politely declined. At Jón’s request, he was duly given a farm in the Westfjords free of charge for his long and loyal service to the king. For the globetrotting Icelander, now 34, it was time to return to his homeland and start a family. During his 11 years of adventure abroad, word of Jón’s fantastic experiences had travelled from farm to farm in Iceland and he was welcomed everywhere. Some called Jón the ‘Icelandic Marco Polo.’ Eloquent and funny, dignitaries were eager to invite the renowned storyteller to their farms for lavish meals. Jón was always happy to regale his eager audiences, large and small, with his exotic tales, and he was never afraid to stretch the truth if it pleased his listeners. 

Jón is best-known today for the autobiography and travelogue he wrote with the help of his son in 1661 at the age of 67. His descriptions of city life in England and Denmark as well as the sights and people of Africa and India are remarkably vivid. He was an excellent observer and able to accurately describe the daily life of ordinary people in a reasonable tone and with little prejudice. Fond of terrifying his audiences, Jón paid close attention to what people wanted to hear and would adjust his stories to maximise their appeal. His book became so popular and widely read that it passed from person to person for centuries in numerous handwritten copies until it was finally published in print in 1908. Since then, it has been translated into Danish, German, and English and is considered a remarkable record of human life and events in Northern Europe and South India in the 17th century.s.

But I will tell anyone who will heed it that every single man who undertakes such journeys and has neither kinsmen on board, nor money, nor powerful friends must have three good qualities, namely; gentleness and an even temper toward officers and others who are worthy of it. Secondly, willingness; so that he does not wait to act till he is bidden. Thirdly, he must suffer hard times without complaint, yet must know his limits and must defend himself with honour, manliness and understanding. The sum of it all is to act and behave honourably in word and deed so that he need never fear answering boldly for himself.

Central Bank Raises Key Interest Rates by 0.5%

Central Bank Ásgeir Jónsson seðlabankastjóri

The Monetary Policy Committee of Iceland’s Central Bank has announced that it will be raising key interest rates by 0.5%, with short-term interest rates (seven-day term deposits) now sitting at 6.5%, RÚV reports. Although the housing market has cooled, and global inflation slightly eased, inflationary pressures remain high.

Inflation outlook worsened

At a briefing held at the Culture House in Reykjavík this morning (there is construction work ongoing within the Central Bank’s meeting hall), the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank announced its decision to raise key interest rates by 0.5%.

As noted in the Statement of the Monetary Policy Committee published this morning, although the housing market has begun to cool and global inflation has eased slightly, “inflationary pressures are still pronounced” and price increases “widespread:”

“The inflation outlook has worsened since the MPC’s last meeting, and although inflation has most likely peaked, bringing it back to target [rates] will take longer than previously anticipated. The deterioration in the outlook stems in particular from the recently finalised private sector wage agreements, which entail considerably larger pay rises than previously assumed. Furthermore, the króna has depreciated, and the outlook is for a larger positive output gap during the forecast horizon,” the statement reads.

More restraint required in the near future

As noted by RÚV, inflation increased in January and was recorded at 9.9%. In light of this, the MPC believes that it is necessary to increase restraints in the near future in order for inflation to subside. According to the Monetary Bulletin, inflation is expected to average 9.5% in the first quarter of this year, which is 1% more than was expected in November.

International inflation remains high even though it has subsided from last year’s peak, and there remains considerable uncertainty about the economic outlook, the Monetary Bulletin notes. The progress of the war in Ukraine will have a lot to do with international economic development, which will inevitably also affect this country.

The Monetary Bulletin also states that, according to the Bank’s new macroeconomic forecast, GDP growth in 2022 measured 7.1%: “far above the November forecast and, if the forecast materialises, the strongest GDP growth rate since 2007. GDP growth is set to weaken in 2023 but the labour market is expected to remain tight, however.”

Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for 3D-Printed Gun Shooting

Bergstaðastræti

A twenty-year-old man has been sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted murder with a 3D-printed weapon, Vísir reports. The shooting took place in a parking garage in Reykjavík in February of last year.

Four shots from a 3D-printed gun

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, February 13, 2022, twenty-year-old Ingólfur Kjartansson attacked another man in a parking garage in Reykjavík with a 3D-printed gun. Ingólfur fired a bullet into the right side of the victim’s chest, just above the nipple, which pierced the victim’s right lung. The victim suffered an open wound and traumatic bleeding in his chest, broken ribs, along with a traumatic pneumothorax.

As reported by Vísir – which has come into possession of a verdict from the District Court of Reykjavík – Ingólfur Kjartansson was sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted murder in November of last year. The prosecutor demanded a ten-year sentence. The verdict states that Ingólfur fired at least three additional shots from the weapon, all of which missed the victim. During the court hearing, Ingólfur stated that he and the victim had reconciled.

Vísir notes that the attack took place shortly after Ingólfur was released from prison. He received a two-year prison sentence in 2021 for violations of the Child Protection Act, assault and robbery, as well as weapons and drug offences.

Sustained a life-threatening injury

The victim’s medical certificate states that he sustained a life-threatening injury. Without treatment, the injuries may have led to his death. The certificate also states that victim faces a good chance of recovery, although it is possible that he has suffered permanent lung damage from the bullet or lasting musculoskeletal pain from his rib fractures.

Ingólfur confessed to the crime and was subsequently sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted murder. He was also ordered to pay the victim ISK 3.5 million ($25,000 / €23,000) in compensation.

Man of the Year

Haraldur Þorleifsson

This is Haraldur Þorleifsson. In 2021 he sold his company, Ueno, to Twitter. During the sale process, he was advised how to legally avoid paying taxes on the profit. Instead, he demanded that the purchase price be paid as salary to maximise the tax he would have to pay.In 2021, he paid the second highest tax in Iceland.

When Ramp Up Iceland constructed its 300th ramp this November, a curious scene ensued. As Haraldur Þorleifsson, the project’s founder, took centre stage in the Mjódd bus station to make a celebratory speech, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson interrupted him from the crowd, in what the media would later playfully describe as “heckling.” The President then proceeded to spray-paint over Halli’s initial goal of 1,000 with a new one of 1,500. Later, Halli would tweet, “Since he’s the president, I guess we have to do it.” The playful exchange captured what many find so endearing about Halli, as he’s often known: a benevolent tech titan who’s still able to take a joke. Much of the exchange also took place on Twitter, of which Halli is both an avid user and a current employee.

People can be successful without working hard or being smart. But nobody can be successful without luck. And a lot of it.

LIFE BY DESIGN

As a designer, Halli thinks a lot about the decisions that shape the world we inhabit. We take so many aspects of life for granted, be it a building, a coffee cup, or a public transportation system. We see them as a given, as part of our environment, forgetting the choices and circumstances that made them. Halli, however, was not the kind of child to settle for “that’s just how it is” as an answer.

His tech career has allowed him to work wherever he wants, and he has travelled extensively, living and working in places like Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Vancouver, Barcelona, and Rio de Janeiro. Both his travels and design background have made him think very deeply about why cities are laid out in certain ways and why certain buildings lack accessibility, while others don’t. “You can go from city to city,” he says, “and often even just within the same country, there’s a very stark difference. So it’s very clear that these are all man-made decisions.”

 

HUMBLE BEGININGS

Halli’s journey to becoming one of Iceland’s so-called “tax kings” was not an obvious one. Born with muscular dystrophy which left him fully dependent on his wheelchair by his mid-20s, his family was working-class. Looking back, Halli is fully aware that things could have been different. “Education is definitely the big one,” Halli says, reflecting on the advantages of growing up in Iceland. “In places like the United States, there’s a big difference in education depending on the money you have. And social differentiation begins very early in education, starting in kindergarten. And of course, it’s not just the quality of education, but the network you develop and your social ca  pital as well.” 

Having studied philosophy and business at university, Halli went on to drop out of a master’s degree in economics. Like so many foundational figures of the tech industry, Halli found it hard to adapt to the daily routines of formal education and work life. But unlike many of his tech peers, Halli hasn’t mythologised his origin story. “It wasn’t really a principled stance at the time,” Halli admits. Thinking back to some of his first jobs, he’s quite candid about the reason he forged a different path: “I just felt I couldn’t show up in a tie every day.”

As Halli was finding his way in the world, he also received some aid in the form of disability payments. “I couldn’t have lived off of them for a long time,” Halli says, “but they did get me through some hard times.” Some of these hard times included being fired from one of his first serious jobs in New York and a difficult period with alcohol and drug use. He also recalls ruefully how he happened to start his first day of work at CCP, a large Icelandic game development studio, on the same day as the banking collapse in Iceland. But in 2011, Halli sobered up and got married.  In 2014, founded Ueno.

Ueno grew out of Halli’s work as a freelancer. Halli scored a lucky break in taking on a project for Google, and as his projects grew bigger and bigger, he realised that he needed to organise a team. Over the years, Ueno grew into a full-service design agency, developing apps, making websites, creating brands, and leading the way in online marketing for some of the biggest names in tech, including Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Visa, Verizon, and others. Some of their best-known projects include the Google Santa Tracker, the Reuters news app, and Dropbox’s online guide.

When Halli sold Ueno to Twitter in 2021, the proceeds from the sale were enough to send him to number 2 on the list of Iceland’s top taxpayers, the exclusive list of “tax kings.” Normally, selling off a highly profitable tech company involves stock options and other financial instruments designed at keeping the profit in lower tax brackets than wages. Instead of experimenting with creative bookkeeping, Halli went in the opposite direction, opting to receive the majority of his profit in the form of wages. The highest wage bracket in Iceland is taxed at a marginal rate of 46%, with lower brackets at 38% and 31%. Had Halli chosen stocks or other financial instruments instead, he would have been taxed at a much lower rate of 22%. Not all details from the sale are public, but according to his tax return, Halli reported a monthly salary of ISK 102 million [$718,000; €672,000] throughout 2021, some 46% of which would have been paid in tax.

In talking with Halli, there is no sense of martyrdom or regret. Nor does he seem to have been simply “following the rules,” impartially acting like everyone ought to. He seems genuinely happy to have the ability to give back. 

The largest part of his working life has been with American tech companies. Reflecting on the differences between his home and the United States reveals a deep appreciation for Iceland’s social systems: “In terms of living, Iceland is simply a better place. In terms of work, if you just isolate that part, the US probably has a leg up, but not for the right reasons. It’s a fear-based society. People are afraid to make mistakes, and when they do, there are no safety nets. In a lot of ways, I relate to that American work ethic, but I don’t think we should build a society around it. Everyone is very motivated, but I don’t think they’re happier. In Iceland, because of the social system, there’s more room for life.”

Despite his passion for the principles of social democracy, Halli certainly does not believe he has all the answers for the world’s social woes. Exhibiting his trademark humility, Halli says simply, “I’m not smart enough to have solutions, but I think in general it would be good to level things. We should start with the assumption that it would be good to be more equal, that people who have more should pay more.” 

This, it seems, is Halli’s goal: to make Iceland an even better place for living. 

‘Talent’ is my least favourite word. It implies that some people are born with a gift. And that others are not. It’s a limiting word. Gatekeeping through genetics. Passion is what actually matters.

RAMP UP

Once Halli was back in Iceland with his family after years of travel, its lack of accessibility seemed both obvious and insupportable. Only now, he could do something about it. Ramp Up Reykjavík started humbly, with the goal to build 100 ramps, mostly in downtown Reykjavík. “It seemed like every year, there was some story about how a person in a wheelchair couldn’t go somewhere on Laugavegur,” he recalls. “The reporter was always shocked, but nothing ever changed, and I remember stories like these going back for decades.” 

Now, Ramp Up has expanded its scope from Reykjavík to all of Iceland, with the goal of 1,600 total ramps across the country by 2026. The difference is especially noticeable on Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping street. Just a year ago, the entrances to many stores, restaurants, hair salons, clinics, and more were blocked by staircases. Now, gently sloping stone ramps, unassuming in their design, can be found throughout the land, allowing people in wheelchairs to access services previously out of reach. Every ramp is a little different, needing to be fitted to the building and surrounding in question. Ramp Up’s success, according to Halli, is largely thanks to the very focused nature of its goal. “In the beginning,” Halli remembers, “we weren’t really sure how it all worked. But now we can do it at scale. It’s complicated and expensive to do as a one-off, but we’ve learned from doing this over and over again.”

“We have a very deep knowledge of this subject now, but we have no idea how to do anything else,” he jokes. The goal of Ramp Up, in short, is to remove any excuse for lack of basic accessibility, making it as easy as possible for the store owner. With a total budget of ISK 400 million [$2.8 million; €2.6 million], half of which is supplied by government funding, Ramp Up handles everything from applying for permits, submitting plans to the city, sending out work crews, working with local municipalities, and everything else. And the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with many confessing that they’d wanted to build ramps to their stores for years, but had no idea how to go about it.

However, Halli tells me, as Ramp Up has made progress, they’ve quickly realised that ramps are far from the whole story: “In the beginning, we talked with a lot of people in the disability community. They rightfully pointed out that it’s not just ramps. How wide are the hallways in a building? Are the restrooms accessible? Are there accommodations for blind and hearing-impaired people? There are so many things that need to be fixed,” Halli says. “If anyone wants to tell me how we could be doing better, I’m always listening.”

A tourist asked me recently why there were so many people in wheelchairs in Reykjavik. I told him his country had them too, but it wasn’t as accessible so they stay at home. Same applies to all minorities. If you don’t see them it’s because they are hiding.

ANNA JÓNA

One of the defining experiences of Haraldur’s life was the loss of his mother to a car crash at age 11. He was on vacation at Disney World when his father received the news, but it was only once they arrived back in Iceland that he was told. Her early loss was, of course, a tragedy. But before he lost her, she left a lasting mark on her son that would shape how he viewed the world for the rest of his life. In Halli’s telling, his mother Anna Jóna was like many mothers: “The best in the world.”  

His mother imprinted a deep love of the arts in Halli. According to him, she was loving and creative, having worked in set design for films. He remembers how they watched many movies together and what an amazing storyteller she was. It speaks volumes that many of his passion projects now aim at promoting the arts. Upcoming projects include an artists’ residence on the Kjalarnes peninsula and his own musical pursuits, including a guest appearance at this past year’s Airwaves festival and an upcoming album called The Radio Won’t Let Me Sleep, to be released in the spring. For an awkward and depressed kid, the recent time in the spotlight isn’t entirely natural. “I’ve had to learn to be open to failure in a whole new area,” he explains. “It’s a small country, so everyone’s kind of famous, but I’ve gotten a fair bit of attention. It’s been kind of scary. What if the music is terrible? It would be a very public failure.” 

This February, Halli will be opening a new café in downtown Reykjavík. Dedicated to his mother, it bears her name: Anna Jóna. With a small theatre equipped with 40 seats, it also aims to become a venue of sorts for small performances and screenings. “It’s an homage to my mother,” Halli tells me. “But something I thought about a lot before opening this café was how I only grew up with her until I was 11. When I think about it now as an adult, it’s such a small slice of her life. I thought about going around to everyone who knew her and asking about her, about their memories of her. But, ultimately, I decided not to, because there’s no way for me to capture her in her entirety. This is an homage to her, but it’s also an homage of my memory of her, of a son for his mother.”

An especially strong memory of his mother stays with Halli to this day, some 40 years later. “Something I keep coming back to is a conversation with my mom I remember very well,” Halli tells me. “We were walking around the city, I think, and she was telling me how everything I saw, everything around me, was man-made. I got such a clear impression from my mother that I could have an impact on the world, that it wasn’t just for me to look at. It was something that I should, that we all should, feel some responsibility for changing.”

 

LIFTING THE VEIL

A popular post featuring Halli made the rounds on social media recently, titled simply “If you’re rich, be more like this guy.” In the comments, a general consensus emerged that cast Halli as the “good guy millionaire.”

Inevitably, the idealisation of Halli is also tied up in romantic ideas of what people want Iceland to mean to them. These ideas portray it as a perfect society, the first nation in the world with an openly LGBT head of state, and the nation that jailed their criminal bankers, if only for a little while.

But to be faithful to Halli’s own social democratic convictions, it is only fair to see him too as someone human, all too human. There is, for instance, the uncomfortable truth that Ueno made much of its fortune working for American tech companies, many of which are working against precisely the systems which allowed Halli to flourish. Companies like Uber, Tesla, and Amazon have all worked to drive down wages, while fiercely resisting the recent wave of unionisation in the United States. Ueno was, of course, not directly involved in these practices. But nevertheless, wherever Silicon Valley seems to promise novelty and freedom, one cannot help but notice that potentially democracy-destabilising concentrations of wealth seem to follow. Halli was lucky enough to benefit from strong social systems during the hard times of his life, but for many, such opportunities are increasingly being taken away by these tech firms.

Though Halli’s fortune is admittedly more humble, it is difficult not to draw comparisons with other members of the tech elite. In some sense, Halli serves as the inverse image of his current employer, Elon Musk. The child of South African diamond miners, Mr. Musk has likewise benefited from the advantages of his upbringing, though where Musk was born into great generational wealth, Halli was simply born into a strong social democracy. But what truly differentiates Halli from his fellow members of the tech elite is the application of the designer’s eye to his own life as well. Halli doesn’t take the world for granted, nor his position in it. Where others justify their anointed positions through appeals to genius, work ethic, and rugged individualism, Halli openly talks about the social support he’s received, often letting online followers in behind the scenes of his life. 

And it’s this kind of online engagement that keeps Halli optimistic about the future of our increasingly digital lives. “I still remember the first chat on a computer I ever had with my cousin on an old 286,” Halli muses, referencing a popular Intel PC model. “Back then, I thought it was going to revolutionise the world in almost exclusively good ways. I am in general more optimistic than pessimistic, but the pessimistic part has definitely grown.” Something the tech world, and especially Twitter, has still not totally come to terms with was the election of Donald Trump and the accompanying culture wars centred around freedom of speech, “cancel culture,” and online hate speech. Today, Halli is working closely with his team at Twitter to address some of these problems, but given the sensitive nature of the work, much of it is under wraps. As hard a project as it may seem, Halli hopes to make Twitter resemble more the digital hopes of his youth. “Twitter has allowed me access to different groups of people,” he explains. “I think it’s broadened my view of the world. I often learn things on Twitter that are uncomfortable but necessary. I come from a very specific background, a community where everyone is kind of the same. It’s important to have access to these different experiences.” 

haraldur þorleifsson

MAN OF THE YEAR

At the end of 2022, Halli swept various Icelandic media outlets’ awards for Person of the Year, being voted by the audiences of Iceland’s widest-read publications as the man of the moment.

And for good reason: between Ramp Up, his contributions to legal funds for victims of sexual abuse, and generous donations to families in need over the holidays, it is hard to think of one Icelander trying to do more good. 

And yet, despite all of the good he’s done, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider a peculiar irony. The Man of the Year, after all, was chosen for something every one of us does every year: paying our taxes.

Majority of Hotel Staff, Drivers Vote in Favour of Strike Action

Hotel workers strike Reykjavík

Hotel staff and drivers have accepted two sets of strike actions, as proposed by the Efling union, with over 80% of the vote, Vísir reports. The Chair of the Efling union has continued to criticise the state mediator’s mediating proposal, while refusing to hand over the union’s electoral roll.

Over 80% in favour of strike action

As noted in an announcement from the Efling union yesterday, hotel staff and drivers have accepted two new sets of strike actions with over 80% of the vote. The voting ended at 6 PM yesterday.

Hotel staff at the Edition Hotel and at the Berjaya hotel chain approved the measures with almost 82% of the vote. A total of 487 were on the electoral roll. Of those, 255 voted, or over 52%. 209 approved, 40 rejected, and 6 abstained.

Truck drivers with Samskip, Olíudreifing, and Skeljungur also agreed to go on strike, with about 84% of the vote. 57 voted, or 77%, of the 74 Efling members that were on the electoral roll. 48 voted in favour, 7 against, and 2 abstained.

A strike among Efling members began at Íslandshotels yesterday, with almost three hundred hotel employees going on strike at noon and gathering at Iðnó for a rally.

Sólveig Anna severely critical of the mediating proposal

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling Union, reserved harsh words about the state mediator’s mediating proposal, referring to it as “an unprecedented act.” Sólveig stated that the proposal had completely altered the rules of the game within the Icelandic labour market – the power had been snatched away from the hands of the workers.

Asked why it was not advisable to eliminate all doubt in regards to the mediating proposal by simply inviting the members of the Efling union to vote, Sólveig replied that the conditions for approval were too narrow; of the 20,000 Efling members, 25% of them would have to reject the mediating proposal, regardless of the percentage of voters who vote in favour.

The reality in the Icelandic labour market, Sólveig told RÚV, was that it was easier said than done to get so many people to participate in elections within trade unions. When the state mediator presented his mediating proposal, other unions competed to condemn it. Asked if the proposal has served to reduce hostilities between trade unions, Sólveig observed the following:

“I won’t comment on that, but what happens, of course, when such incredible and truly unprecedented situations arise, people realise that there is an experiment going on here: testing how far the powers of the state mediator can be expanded and then creating this situation where if, for some reason, a trade union – whether it is a huge one like Efling or a small one – does not agree to the collective agreements that other unions have signed, then the state mediator will simply say: here is a mediating proposal, enjoy – you have nothing to say about the matter. That’s why I think that the entire Icelandic labour movement has risen up to say that this is obviously not working and this must be stopped.”

State mediator yet to receive Efling’s electoral roll

After the District Court of Reykjavík ruled in favour of the legality of the state mediator’s proposal, the Efling union has requested an expedited hearing by the Court of Appeals (Landsréttur) on the union’s appeal against the District Court’s decision. State mediator, Aðalsteinn Leifsson, told RÚV yesterday, that such a thing would be fruitless:

“We have in our hands a judgement from the district court, which clearly states that any appeal or complaint to another judicial authority has no effect on its enforcement. So, as an official, I must do my duty and ensure that I get this electoral roll and that the members of the Efling union get to exercise their right to vote,” state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson stated.

The state mediator has tried to convince Efling to hand over its electoral roll so that members could vote on the mediating proposal. Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has maintained that compiling a voter list for the mediating proposal was “highly complicated.”

The state mediator has sent an enforcement request to the district magistrate to obtain Efling’s electoral roll. As noted by RÚV, only a few days pass until enforcement is carried out, in this case, representatives from the magistrate’s office go to Efling’s office and collect the voter register.