Wages Have Risen too Sharply, Finance Minister Observes

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, believes there are indications that many Icelandic companies are struggling to deal with negotiated wage increases. The interest rates should have been kept higher for longer, he told Morgunblaðið on Wednesday.

A sense of uncertainty

In an interview with Morgunblaðið on Wednesday, Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, expressed his concern for wage increases in the labour market:

“I think there is reason to be concerned when companies that have been doing well start to show losses and when wage rates have risen significantly. There have been indications in some financial statements that companies are struggling to cope with the negotiated wage increases.”

“This is unmistakably the case,” Bjarni continued, “and now we need to find some balance again. We need to read the situation and act as necessary. We have emphasised regaining balance in fiscal affairs, supporting the reduction of inflation and protecting vulnerable groups from the effects of inflation while it lasts,” Bjarni observed, noting that there was a sense of uncertainty within the economy.

“It has to be said that there is a certain amount of uncertainty. We see it, for example, in the Stock Exchange, when we witnessed the third biggest stock market drop in a single day since 2009. These are big events. They reflect insecurity and uncertainty, a certain sense of fear and a kind of reset. Things are being reconfigured,” Bjarni remarked.

BSRB strikes ongoing

As noted earlier this week, 1,000 workers belonging to the BSRB union – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – went on strike as part of BSRB’s ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

The strike actions affect, among others, staff in sports and primary schools in Kópavogur and Mosfellsbær, after-school programs in Mosfellsbær, preschools in Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes primary school:

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities must pay the same wages to BSRB union members as others in similar jobs. BSRB is demanding retroactive wage increases from January 1, when the last collective agreement was still in effect. The negotiating committee has offered wage increases from April 1st.

On Tuesday, BSRB released a statement emphasising that strike actions were planned for next week, extending to sports programmes and primary schools in Hafnarfjörður, Hveragerði, Árborg, Ölfus, and the Westman islands: “Further strike actions are being prepared in light of the fact that there is no progress in the negotiations.”

“The municipal staff have had enough of this injustice – and they want to take further action. Justice is, of course, workers receiving the same salary for the same jobs. Raising the minimum wage is long overdue so that people in essential jobs can make ends meet,” Sonja Ýr observed.

Tindastóll Wins Its First Ever Men’s Basketball Championship

Icelandic Championships

Tindastóll celebrated a historic victory yesterday as they secured their first-ever men’s basketball championship. In a nail-biting showdown during game five of the finals, Tindastóll emerged triumphant with a close 81-82 victory over Valur. Head Coach Pavel Ermolinskij, leading the team in his inaugural season, was in a humble mood after the game, telling Vísir he had been “a passenger” on the team’s journey.

Home-court advantage

Heading into game five of the finals yesterday, Tindastóll, a sports club based in Sauðárkrókur in North Iceland, had previously made it to the league finals on four occasions – without having ever clinched the title. After suffering a defeat in game four in Sauðárkrókur on Monday, Tindastóll faced a difficult task at Valur’s home court in Hlíðarendi, Reykjavík.

Valur began the game in an assertive fashion, establishing an 11-2 advantage after four minutes of play, with the atmosphere appearing to be slightly tilted in the home team’s favour. Valur continued their strong run during the beginning of the second quarter, but Tindastóll managed to claw their way into the game, narrowing the deficit to five points, 43-38, when the half-time whistle was blown.

Throughout much of the third quarter, Valur’s five-point margin remained intact. With four minutes remaining in the quarter, however, Tindastóll achieved a breakthrough by capturing their first lead. Keyshawn Woods played a pivotal role in the turnaround, sinking a pair of free throws to bring the score to 55-56 in Tindastóll’s favour.

In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, Valur appeared to have the championship within their grasp. A pivotal three-pointer from the hands of Kári Jónsson gave the home team a crucial 75-72 lead. Kári continued his streak, extending Valur’s advantage to five points, with the scoreboard reading 77-72 and only a minute remaining on the clock.

Tindastóll displayed incredible determination and refused to surrender. Keyshawn Woods stepped up in a crucial moment and levelled the game, bringing the score to a 79-79 tie, with just fifteen seconds left of the fourth quarter.

A dramatic finish

Valur called a timeout, and head coach Finnur Freyr Stefánsson drew up a play for Kári Jónsson. Kári subsequently drove past Tindastóll’s defence brilliantly and netted a tough shot with just five seconds left on the clock.

Tindastóll’s head coach, Pavel Ermolinskij – a former player for Valur and eight-time national champion – was forced to call a timeout, and he drew up a play for Keyshawn Woods. Having received the ball, Keyshawn Woods jumped up for a three-point attempt – and was fouled. Woods displayed nerves of steel and sank all the free throws to give Tindastóll an 81-82 lead. To complete the drama of the night, as noted by Vísir, the second two penalties both bounced on the ring before going in.

In a final attempt to turn the game, Kári Jónsson drove upfield, but Sigtryggur Arnar Björnsson, running after him, tripped him up. Valur wanted a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct – which would have meant two free throws for Kári – but the referees were of a different opinion. Valur were awarded a throw-in with 1.6 seconds on the clock, which was not enough for the home team to carve out a timely shot at the basket.

“A mere passenger”

After the game, Pavel Ermolinskij stated that he was “stunned” by Tindastóll’s supporters, who were in an ecstatic mood. Pavel explained that it was unclear whether he would remain the team’s coach.

When reporter Stefán Árni Pálsson asked him how he was feeling, in an interview with Vísir after the game, Pavel responded thusly: “Just great, of course. I’m grateful to have been a part of this. I just wanted to be a passenger in what’s happening now.”

Pavel went on to express his admiration for Tindastóll’s players.

“Tindastóll, I’m just a passenger, and I just want to experience and be on their side in this. All those who played this year and over this ten-year history, they are the ones who deserve to have this moment.”

Deep North Episode 26: To the Manor Born

barónstígur reykjavík

The observant visitor to Reykjavík may be justified in raising their eyebrows at Barónstígur (Baron’s Way), a street in downtown Reykjavík that intersects Laugavegur. The street is in fact named after an eccentric aristocrat, the Baron Charles Francois Xavier de Gauldrée-Boilleau, who lived in Iceland around the turn of the century. His story is a rather unhappy one, filled with failed business ventures and bankruptcy. During his time in Iceland, he attempted to modernize the Icelandic fishing fleet, create a model farm at his manor by Hvítárvellir, and build a new dairy for the people of Reykjavík. Where he perceived Icelanders as a backward people who needed help modernizing, many Icelanders perceived him as a flighty and eccentric jack of all trades, but master of none. Following the failure of one of his endeavours, he likely took his own life on a trip to England in 1901.

Read the full story.

Icelandic Film Industry Sees 80% Growth in Ten Years

Katla Netflix/Lilja Jónsdóttir

The operating revenue of the Icelandic film industry has grown by 80% over the past ten years. “A giant leap in a relatively brief period of time,” the editor of the trade publication Klapptré told RÚV.

Considerable growth

In the last ten years, the Icelandic film industry has grown by ISK 15 billion ($107 million / €99 million) in operating revenues. As noted by Statistics Iceland, the operating revenue of the Icelandic film industry totalled ISK 12 billion ($85 million / €79 million) in 2012, compared to ISK 27.8 billion ($198 million / €183 million) in 2021.

Operating revenue refers to, “the total amount that a company registers to its books during the reference period and corresponds to the sale of goods or services to third parties, including export earnings.”

“A giant leap”

“There are fluctuations between years, but over a ten-year period – this is quite the leap,” Ásgrímur Sverrisson, editor of the trade journal Klapptré, told RÚV.

As noted by RÚV, the film industry is by far the largest cultural industry in Iceland today. Following closely behind is the media sector, with a turnover of approximately ISK 18 billion ($128 million / €119 million). Design and architecture have also experienced significant growth over the last decade.

The growth within the film industry is exemplified by the substantial increase in the number of operators, which now stands at nearly 800. “Just the other day, there was a general meeting of the directors’ association; before there were a few dozen directors. Today, there were around 200 people,” Ásgrímur remarked.

Besides the state’s reimbursement policy, and the efforts of employees and production companies, streaming services have also played a significant role in the growth of the Icelandic film industry: “They have certainly played their part in all of this, most notably the production of Katla, which was domestic content produced by Netflix.”

When asked if this meant that the long-awaited “summer of Icelandic film” (i.e. golden era) had finally arrived, Ásgrímur replied: “The fact is, that it has been spring, summer, autumn – and then winter, again and again.”

Icelandair Begins Scheduled Flights to Detroit

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Yesterday, Icelandair inaugurated its scheduled flight service to Detroit, Michigan. The airline plans to offer seasonal service to Detroit four times a week, Vísir reports.

“Bridging Motown and Europe”

At 17 PM yesterday, Icelandair embarked upon its first scheduled flight to the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) in Detroit, Michigan. As noted by Vísir, this marks the airlines return to the city after a brief stint in the 1980s. Presently, Icelandair serves thirteen destinations across the United States, and the addition of the Detroit route aims to cater to the sustained demand for travel to Iceland, as American tourists constitute the largest group visiting the country.

“Icelandair is pleased to offer a refreshing new choice when travelling to Detroit. Our new flights will offer business and leisure travellers more options to and from Iceland and beyond,” Bogi Nils Bogason, President & CEO of Icelandair Group, observed. “These new flights will open the doors for inbound and outbound travellers to make Detroit a relevant gateway in our network, boosting tourism and trade to and from the Motor City. We are excited to help bridge Motown with Europe and look forward to welcoming Detroit aboard.”

As noted in an article on Market Screener, Detroit is the birthplace of auto manufacturing in the United States, the second-largest regional economy in the American Midwest, and home to the legendary Motown music scene.