Union Leaders Sharply Criticise Minister’s Remarks about Worker Demands

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Union leaders responded swiftly to Minister of Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson, following statements made by him that they need to temper their demands due to the amount of money that may be paid out to Grindavík residents.

Currently, a broad coalition of labour unions are in negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). The subjects of these talks range from flat króna-amount pay rises to how many years the next collective bargaining agreement should cover; management is hoping for longer term contracts, while unions are aiming for shorter term.

These talks have been difficult and slow-going, but have not yet reached the point where the matter would be referred to the State Conciliation and Mediation Officer.

Have to see “the big picture”

Speaking about the negotiations on the roundtable discussion show Silfrið, Bjarni Benediktsson cautioned that labour unions should consider the amount of money the state intends to pay out to Grindavík residents when negotiating with management.

“When the state, and all of us, take on such a big project as the Grindavík matter, it of course has an effect on our ability to stretch ourselves towards the demands of others, who are at the same time asking us to do something significant,” he said.

“I think we should insist that people consider the big picture,” he added. “It would be unwise of all parties involved to remove themselves from the larger context that we are all a part of.”

“Tasteless” to use Grindavík

Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, director of the labour union VR, told RÚV that these remarks did not come as a surprise, but also does not have a good impact on the ongoing labour negotiations.

He added that the amount of money workers are asking for, when compared to the amount of money the state paid out to companies early in the pandemic and after the 2008 financial collapse, as well as how much money is in the disaster fund, come out to “small change”, adding that it was “very tasteless and disgusting to use the situation in Grindavík in order to work against the necessary and important goals that we have laid out in these negotiations.”

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir (shown above), the director of the labour union Efling, told Vísir that they are very much aware of the situation in Grindavík, and support the residents getting everything they need. At the same time, she said, these negotiations will directly affect some 115,000 people, or about 73% of the labour market. As such, the government cannot just push the matter aside.

Negotiations between these labour unions and management are still ongoing.

A Different Story

Karitas Hrundar Palsdottir

It’s early Saturday morning and normally I would have slept through the few hours of scarce brightness that bless us this time of year. During winter, it is far too easy to hibernate through the gloominess of Iceland’s longest season. But this Saturday was different.  Let’s read and chat The sun was slowly creeping its […]

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Grindavík Sees Workers Team Up to Clear 700°C Lava

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

Around 100 people are working on repairs and salvaging operations in Grindavik, tackling tasks like restoring heating, power, and water supply, in addition to clearing new lava at a temperature of about 700°C. Strict safety measures are being observed.

Clearing a considerable amount of lava

As noted in a Facebook post by the Grindavík-based rescue team Þorbjörn yesterday, around 100 people have been engaged in various repairs and salvaging operations in the town of Grindavik in recent days. According to the update, the utmost safety has been observed in these efforts and “tremendous energy” has been invested in various projects in the town.

“Plumbing and electrical teams, accompanied by response units, have been traversing the town, working hard to restore heating to houses. The extent and amount of work vary by location, but efforts have been made to cover as many houses as possible. This work is nearly complete as of the time of writing.”

The update noted that teams from Landsnet (a transmission system operator) and the utility company HS Veitur have worked to restore the power line between the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant and Grindavik, a task that was completed last night. Earthmoving contractors, along with Grindavik’s fire brigade and municipal employees, have also been working to get the town’s cold water supply back up and running.

This requires clearing a considerable amount of new lava, still about 700°C. “This work is progressing well, and hopefully, water will be restored soon,” the post from Þorbjörn reads.

700-metres of fencing

Several hundred metres of fencing have also been erected in Grindavik to enclose areas where fissures and potential land collapses pose a threat, particularly in open spaces where the ground has not been reinforced or where fissures are visibly open. 

“Everyone working in Grindavik these days must adhere to strict safety requirements and receive specific safety instructions. For instance, each person must wear a fall-arrest harness and helmet, accompanied by response units equipped with gas detectors and communication devices. In the industrial area in the eastern part of Grindavik … people must be secured with safety lines while working there.”

A portable five-metre steel bridge has also been constructed to cross fissures and enhance the safety of those working in Grindavik. Plans are underway to build another similar bridge to keep multiple roads open simultaneously.

“All these measures aim to increase the safety of those in Grindavik, with the goal of starting valuable salvaging operations as soon as the opportunity arises. There is now a strong emphasis on planning the salvaging of valuables in the town, but as previously mentioned, such actions cannot commence until the risk assessment map from the Icelandic Meteorological Office changes,” the post reads.

“Finally, we would like to express our profound gratitude to everyone who has participated in the projects in Grindavik recently. Unity and collaboration have characterised the work, with up to 100 people involved in operations each day.”

Parliamentarian to Submit Bill on Use of AI

Björn Leví of the Pirate Party

Björn Leví Gunnarsson, an MP for the Pirate Party, says that Iceland urgently needs a law in place on the use of AI, RÚV reports. A bill on that subject will be submitted within the next few days.

A controversial skit

To illustrate the importance of such a law, Björn referred to a skit in the year-end sketch comedy show Áramótaskaupið which used the AI likeness of beloved entertainer Hermann Gunnarsson, who passed away in 2013. The choice was controversial, and sparked a broader discussion about the legal ramifications on the use of AI.

In addition, he cited how AI is already being used in the US and the UK to spread misinformation.

The future does not wait

“The future doesn’t actually care about the speed limits within politics, which drags its feet in all projects for years, tossing them back and forth between committees and workgroups while things are happening,” he said.

Björn emphasised that the matter cannot wait for the European Union or some committee or another to catch up with ever-changing technology.

“We need to make it clear that the re-use of material that one could presume is real, whether we’re talking about images, video, sound or other media, is not permitted without the express consent of the individual in question or their immediate associates if the individual is deceased,” Björn said. “We need to respond to this immediately.”

Such a law would be put into effect through Iceland’s existing law on copyrights, he added. Parliament can expect the bill within the next few days.

Iceland Delays Eurovision Decision Amid Gaza Concerns

Eurovision Söngvakeppnin 2020 Daði Freyr Dimma

RÚV has decided to postpone its decision on Iceland’s participation in Eurovision until after the national Song Contest concludes and in consultation with its winner. The decision follows protests related to Israel’s participation in Eurovision amid the Gaza conflict.

Decision deferred

RÚV has decided to sever ties between the Song Contest — an annual music competition determining the country’s representative for Eurovision — and Iceland’s participation in Eurovision. The Song Contest will go ahead as usual, but the final decision on Iceland’s participation in Eurovision will not be made until after its conclusion and in consultation with the winner. The reason for this decision is criticism that has arisen over Israel’s participation in the contest, despite the conflict in Gaza.

Concern among contestants

In an interview with Síðdegisútvarpið on Rás 2, Stefán Eiríksson, director of the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV), stated that those contestants entering the Song Contest are understandably concerned about calls to boycott Eurovision in light of the conflict in Gaza. These concerns have been communicated to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). In light of this, RÚV has decided to defer its final decision on participation in Eurovision — held in Malmö, Sweden, this spring — until a winner has been announced.

Read More: Daði’s Eurovision is 2020

“Under this new arrangement, contestants will still apply with the goal of participating in Eurovision on behalf of Iceland,” Stefán remarked. The decision on whether or not Iceland will participate in Eurovision will then be made in consultation with the winner, which means that whether or not Iceland will participate in Eurovision will not become clear until mid-March.

“The contestants, like us, are concerned about the situation that has arisen. The Song Contest has been our way to prepare for Eurovision, and we have previously announced our intentions to participate in Eurovision like before. We do not, however, know what the future holds,” Stefán stated.

A completely new approach

“Deciding on RÚV’s participation in Eurovision after the Song Contest concludes is completely new,” Rúnar Freyr Gíslason, executive director of the Song Contest, remarked. He stated that contestants who have been selected for the competition, and who will be revealed on Saturday, have accepted this compromise. Criticism of participation in Eurovision certainly has not gone unnoticed by them.

Rúnar and Stefán also noted that, following conversations with their colleagues abroad, the demand for boycotting Eurovision due to Israel’s participation does not seem to be widespread, with the exception of Iceland and Norway. Like Iceland, Finland is also planning on hosting its national Song Contest before deciding whether or not to participate in Eurovision.

When asked whether this wouldn’t place undue pressure on the winner of the Song Contest, i.e. to decide on Eurovision participation on behalf of the nation, Rúnar replied that there was “pressure on everyone.” However, he added, it was important to emphasise that RÚV did not shape foreign policy — and much less so a potential Icelandic contestant in Eurovision.

“A huge decision to make.”

Reacting to the news, Bragi Valdimar Skúlason, chairperson of the Icelandic Association of Composers and Lyricists (FTT), observed that it was good that the Song Contest would go ahead as usual; it is an important platform.

“Perhaps it’s time to remember that the Song Contest is one thing and Eurovision is another, even though they are obviously interconnected.”

When asked about the pressure placed on the winner of the competition, given that Iceland’s participation in Eurovision is a matter close to many hearts, Bragi stated that he hoped RÚV would provide ample support to the person in question:

“One does worry a bit about what that pressure will be like and what the situation will be then. It’s a huge decision to make and hopefully, RÚV will support the winner well, whoever it may be, and assist them in making a decision. This is an extremely complex issue.”

As previously noted, it will be revealed on Saturday which songs and performers will participate in this year’s Song Contest.

This article was updated at 10:06 AM.

Government Coalition Parties Polling at an All-Time Low

government coalition

The three government coalition parties are polling at a combined 32.6% according to a new survey by Maskína. The Independence Party is polling at 16.6%, its weakest showing of all time since Maskína began conducting polls, while the Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s party, the Left-Green Movement, is in danger of losing all its MPs from Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament.

The poll was conducted from January 10 to 15, around the time the volcanic eruption by Grindavík took place, but before Independence Party chairman Bjarni Benediktsson made remarks about asylum seeker policy which have been interpreted as a policy shift for his party, Heimildin reports. Alþingi elections are scheduled for next year.

Coalition tested

The Left-Green Movement is polling at 5.7%, which would make it the smallest of the parties that now have seats in Alþingi. The third coalition member, the Progressive Party, is polling at 10.3%, well below the 17.3% it received in the 2021 election. In the election, the three parties received a combined 54.4% of the vote, but according to the poll, less than a third of voters would choose one of the coalition parties.

Alþingi reconvened this Monday after a Christmas break and a number of issues have tested the strength of the coalition, including whaling, policy on asylum seekers, and the question of how the residents of Grindavík can best be served in the wake of an eruption that did significant infrastructural damage to the town.

Social democrats in the lead

The Centre Party, however, is rising in the polls, with 11.8% support. The Social Democratic Alliance remains the leader in the polls with 25.7% like it has been for more than a year. Since electing a new chairperson, Kristrún Frostadóttir, the party has soared above its 2021 election result, when it received only 9.9% support.

The Reform Party is polling at 11.7%, up from 8.3% in the election. Two of the opposition parties have lost support since the election. The Pirate Party is polling at 7.6%, while the People’s Party is at 6.5%.