Polish Studies Minor Established at University of Iceland

The University of Iceland is inaugurating a new program this fall: a minor in Polish Studies. RÚV reports that the university’s Polish language courses have been popular, particularly among elementary school teachers. Some 20,000 people of Polish origin live in Iceland, making it the largest single immigrant group in the country.

The new program has been in the works and is partially funded by a grant from NAWA, the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange. The institution will send a visiting instructor to Iceland this summer, who will start teaching in the fall semester.

Eyjólfur Már Sigurðsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Language Centre, says the course of study will be a 60-credit minor, which students can take alongside another course of study. “This is primarily a language study course for beginners, but also a cultural course. That’s why we want to call it Polish Studies, because we are teaching both the language and the culture.”

Read More: Iceland’s Polish Community

Some of the program’s courses will be taught in the late afternoons and will be accessible to the general public through the university’s continuing education institute, Endurmenntun HÍ.

Katarzyna Rabęda has been teaching Polish at the University of Iceland for five years. She says that most Polish language students are teachers who want to better connect with Polish schoolchildren, followed by Icelanders who are connected to Polish people through family ties – usually a Polish spouse or children. Katarzyna says that the program has been popular but rather limited and welcomes the upcoming changes, which will allow more time for instructors to cover Polish culture, films, music and history.

Never More International Flights Direct to Icelandic Countryside

Akureyri Iceland

Residents of Iceland who live outside the capital area normally need to travel to Keflavík to go abroad, adding an often lengthy and costly leg to their travel itinerary. However, this summer will see a record number of international flights directly from Akureyri, North Iceland and even one international route from Egilsstaðir, East Iceland to Germany, RÚV reports. These flights will not only make it easier for residents of North and East Iceland to travel abroad, but they will also help spread out tourists across Iceland, who normally have to travel through the capital area.

This summer, three airlines – Niceair, Condor, and Edelweiss – will offer direct flights between Akureyri and Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Tenerife, Alicante, Zurich, and Frankfurt. Direct flights between Frankfurt and Egilsstaðir, East Iceland, will be offered for the first time ever this summer.

Hjalti Páll Þórarinsson of Visit North Iceland says the flights provide new gateways to Iceland, and can help spread out tourists across various regions as well as more evenly throughout the year. Hjalti Páll says that although inflation must be impacting tourists in Iceland as it impacts locals, so far it does not seem to be leading to a drop in tourist numbers.

Opposition MPs Demand Access to Banking Collapse Related Report

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

Iceland’s Parliament has voted against permitting MPs to put forth questions about Lindarhvoll, a company founded by the Finance Ministry in 2016 to handle assets acquired by the government after Iceland’s banking collapse, RÚV reports. Opposition MPs call for an internal report of the company from 2018 to be made public, which the Auditor General has opposed.

Social-Democratic Alliance MP Jóhann Páll Jóhannsson and Pirate Party MP Bjön Leví Gunnarsson, both submitted questions about the 2018 report last week. “Yesterday, the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressive Party used their majority power in the Alþingi to forbid me to ask the Speaker of the Alþingi about a report that deals with [current Finance Minister] Bjarni Benediktsson’s sale of tens of billions worth of state assets through the private limited company Lindarhvoll ehf.,” Jóhann Páll wrote on Facebook. “The report was prepared by an official of Alþingi, on behalf of the public, with public funds, and deals with the sale of public assets. The question remains: what is it that the public is not allowed to see?”

The Auditor General has opposed the document being made public as it was never written for publication, but rather only for internal use. He also noted that the office submitted a final report on Lindarhvoll in 2020.

Elon Musk and Halli Spar Over Termination at Twitter

Haraldur Þorleifsson

Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, entered into a fiery Twitter debate with Icelandic entrepreneur and philanthropist Haraldur Þorleifsson, who was laid off from the company last month. Musk implied that Haraldur, known as Halli, had not been fulfilling his job requirements at Twitter, while Halli asked whether Twitter would pay him the severance the company owes him now that he has been let go.

Laid off without being told about it

At the end of February, Halli deduced he had been laid off from Twitter when he was no longer able to log into his workstation with his Twitter credentials. His job was one of many casualties in the latest of several layoffs at the company, which has gone from 7,500 employees to under 2,000 since Musk took ownership. Although he could no longer access his workstation, Halli stated that the head of HR was not able to confirm whether he was an employee or not.

All other options exhausted, Halli resorted to tweeting at Elon Musk directly, asking for answers.

Haraldur did receive a reply from Musk, who asked “What work have you been doing?” When Haraldur replied, Musk seemed to make little of his work, responding with crying laughing emojis.

In a reply to another user’s comment, Musk accused Haraldur of not fulfilling his job requirements and lying about his disability.

Haraldur has since responded to that tweet with a long thread explaining his condition as well as his wealth, acquired when he sold his company, Ueno, to Twitter in 2021.

The proceeds of the sale of Ueno rocketed Halli to the top of Iceland’s list of highest taxpayers, where he has also gained recognition as one of Iceland’s most active philanthropists. Among his philanthropic projects is Ramp Up, a non-profit building accessibility ramps throughout the country.

Haraldur swept Iceland’s person of the year awards in 2022 being awarded the honour by four separate media outlets.

Read More: Man of the Year

Twitter’s HR department has since reached out to Halli confirming he has been laid off.

What’s the Status of the Efling Negotiations?

efling strikes iceland

Update: As of March 8, negotiations between Efling and SA have been concluded. Read more about the contract here.

Strikes, short-lasted and contentious negotiations, and now a pending lockout against the Efling trade union have been in the news lately, leaving many who don’t follow Icelandic wage negotiations wondering: what, exactly, is happening on the Icelandic labour market?

Current status

All workers’ strikes have been postponed while Efling members vote on a mediating proposal put forth by the state mediator on March 1. Voting closes at 10:00 AM on March 8. The lockout proposed by the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) has been postponed until March 9, meaning it could still be instituted if Efling members reject the mediating proposal.

Leadup to negotiations

In the fall of 2022, around one-third of all labour contracts in Iceland expired and needed to be renegotiated. Amidst upsets in the leadership of the Confederation of Icelandic Labour (ASÍ) and a particularly difficult combination of high inflation and interest rates, the round of contract negotiations was particularly fraught. Given the recent increases in cost of living, it was also an especially important round to ensure quality of life for workers. Most major trade unions were able to reach compromises with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), mostly in the form of shorter-term contracts. These short-term contracts will be renegotiated with SA when conditions are hopefully less difficult.

Playing hardball

One major holdout has been Efling Union, led by chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir. Efling is the second-largest workers’ union in Iceland and represents some of the lowest-paid workers in the country. Efling has leveraged the difficult negotiating climate to agitate for more substantial wage increases.

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson, whose task was to bring the negotiations between SA and Efling to a productive end, attempted to force a vote within Efling by submitting similar conditions approved by Efling’s peer unions directly to the union membership, circumventing what many see as an overtly militant leadership. Legal wrangling delayed the request and ultimately led to the appointment of a new, temporary, state mediator: Ástráður Haraldsson.

Workers’ strikes

Since early February, Efling members have approved several strike actions, mostly affecting hotels in the Reykjavík capital area. February 20 saw a significant escalation in the tensions between SA and Efling, when Efling’s suspended strikes resumed at midnight. In addition to the original 700 striking hotel workers, other labourers (most significantly among them, truck drivers) have resumed their strikes. As of the time of writing, some 2,000 Efling members are on strike. Efling has, however, postponed a strike among additional workers (in hotels, security services, and janitorial services) that was set to begin on February 28.

Confederation of Enterprise approves lockout

On February 22, SA announced that its members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of a lockout of Efling workers set to begin on March 2. CEO of SA Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson called it a “last resort” to force the conclusion of a collective agreement with Efling Union. Efling Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir accused SA of using the lockout to force the government to step into the conflict.

The pending lockout would affect all members of Efling, around 21,000 in total, neither allowing them to show up to work, receive a wage, or accrue benefits and leave.

Unclear whether union would support locked-out workers

The pending lockout could leave Efling members in a tight spot as the union’s leaders appear to disagree on whether to make payouts to affected workers. While Efling’s regulations do not prevent the union from making payouts to members affected by a lockout, a notice on Efling’s website states “the union does not hold responsibility for a lockout and the labour dispute fund cannot sustain such payments.”

Efling’s labour dispute fund allocates approximately ISK 25,000 [$174, €164] per worker per day and has been used to pay the 2,000 or so members who were striking. In the case of a lockout, however, Efling would need to support ten times that number, and its funds would reportedly run out in a week.

Some have interpreted SA’s lockout as an attempt to intimate Efling into accepting their demands, and if not, to quickly burn through Efling’s labour dispute fund and force the union back to the negotiating table.

Impact felt at the pump and in hotels

Strikes among Efling workers, now postponed, impacted Icelandic business and society in various ways. A strike among oil truck drivers was felt at the pump in late February, when petrol supplies gradually began to deplete. Several hotels were temporarily closed due to workers strikes.’

Lockout postponed

In light of a meeting scheduled for February 27 between Efling and SA, SA has postponed the potential lockout pending further developments. Originally scheduled to begin Thursday, March 2, the potential lockout will now begin March 6, if no agreement is reached.

At the same time, Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, chairperson of ASÍ, has stated that the planned lockout is potentially illegal on grounds of formal defects in the original notice, in addition to the problem of jurisdiction. According to statements from Kristján Þórður, SA members from outside the capital voted on the proposed measure, rendering it illegitimate. Because Efling trade union exclusively represents workers in the capital region, only capital area members of SA should have been allowed to vote on the matter.

On March 6, the Labour Court ruled in SA’s favour, deeming the lockout legal.

Vote on new proposal approved, strikes and lockouts postponed

Temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, March 1. He told reporters that representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling union had approved of his new mediating proposal and that all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts would be postponed while voting took place.

Voting began on Friday, March 3, at noon, and will conclude on Wednesday, March 8. The lockout and all strikes have been postponed in the meantime.

This is a developing story and will be regularly updated. For more context on the labour situation in Iceland, listen to Deep North Episode 8: Wage Negotiations.

Proposed Lockout Legal, Labour Court Rules

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson SA Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise

The Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) had the legal right to call a lockout of Efling Union workers in the ongoing wage negotiations between the two parties, Iceland’s Labour Court has ruled. SA was also legally allowed to let all of its member companies vote on the lockout, even those that do not have Efling Union workers on their payroll, according to the ruling. The lockout and workers’ strikes have been postponed while Efling members vote on a mediating proposal. RÚV reported first.

Lockout would affect over 20,000 workers

The Labour Court case is the fourth legal case filed in Iceland’s most tense wage negotiations in decades. When negotiations came to a halt in February, SA held a vote on whether to impose a lockout on Efling workers. The pending lockout would affect all members of Efling, around 21,000 in total, neither allowing them to show up to work, receive a wage, nor accrue benefits and leave.

All member companies of SA were permitted to vote on the proposed lockout, and it was approved with just under 95% of the votes in favour. The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), Efling Union’s parent organisation, protested the fact that companies without Efling workers on their payroll were permitted to vote on the lockout and filed a case with the Labour Court, demanding the lockout be deemed unlawful. The Labour Court has now ruled in favour of SA.

Vote on mediating proposal

The lockout has been postponed until March 9, as Efling members are currently voting on a mediating proposal put forth by the state mediator on March 1. Voting closes at 10:00 AM on March 8. As such, the ruling has no immediate effect on the negotiations, though it would if Efling members reject the mediating proposal. Efling workers’ strikes, which had led to the temporary closure of several hotels in the Reykjavík capital area, have also been postponed while the votes are cast.