Labour Talks: Yesterday's Long Meeting Inconclusive, Mediator Reticent Skip to content
Ástráður, Halldór Benjamín
Photo: Golli.

Labour Talks: Yesterday’s Long Meeting Inconclusive, Mediator Reticent

At 9 AM yesterday morning, the negotiating committees of the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) attended their first meetings with the new, temporarily-appointed state mediator, Ástráður Haraldsson.

Just before the meeting began, Ástráður told reporters that, so long as there was some good to be had, he was prepared to meet late into the evening. And meet he did; it was not until 10 PM that same day that the negotiating parties decided to call it a day. The disputing parties are set to meet again at 10 AM this morning.

Below you will find a brief recap, in broad strokes, of yesterday’s events.

The meeting commences

Prior to stepping into the meeting with SA and the temporarily-appointed state mediator, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, told RÚV that she was happy with the new mediator: “We are very happy to have gotten him involved in this dispute for we feel he is willing to listen to our point of view.”

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director General of SA, was not quite as upbeat during an intermission at noon. Speaking to RÚV, Halldór stated that it was “too early to tell how the negotiations between SA and Efling were progressing.” He clarified that the mediator had been meeting separately with the two disputing parties, hoping to find some middle ground.

Asked if he was hopeful, Halldór Benjamín replied with a simple “no.” “I realise our responsibility to society and the enormous financial damage that will be done to the economy in the coming days.”

At the time, Halldór Benjamín expected the meeting to last into the afternoon.

Solidarity meeting at Harpa

While Halldór Benjamín spoke to the media at noon, a large group of people had gathered at the Northern Lights Hall (Norðurljósarsalur) at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall. Efling was hosting a solidarity meeting; a strike, involving, on the one hand, 500 employees of the hotel chains Berjaya and Edition, and, on the other hand, about 70 employees at Samskip, Skeljungur, and Olíudreifing, had officially come into effect at noon. Efling members were there to confirm their participation in the strike and register for payments from the strike fund, which amounts to ISK 25,000 ($173 / €162) per day.

Gas stations busy

At 2.30 PM, Vísir reported that the oil company N1 had closed the delivery of petrol and diesel at several stations in the Southwest corner of Iceland. The outlet reported that gas stations in the capital area were expected to run dry over the coming 24 hours; earlier that day and yesterday, some customers had arrived to stations with large containers to stock up on petrol. The fire brigade later issued a warning, advising against the hoarding of petrol.

Halldór leaves the meeting – on account of the flu

At 5 PM, Halldór Benjamín walked out of his meeting with Efling and the state mediator. But not because talks had stranded. He was feeling under the weather. He told a reporter from RÚV he felt “a pain in his neck, was a bit restless, and was advised to go home.”

The reported, Arnar Björnsson, inquired if his indisposedness derived from being made to swallow any nauseating suggestions. Halldór laughed.

The issue at hand

As noted by RÚV, the gap separating the two disputing parties is not, on the face of it, wide. SA had refused to waver from their offer of a collective agreement similar to the one signed by other unions of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS). The agreement included a general rate increase of ISK 32-52,000 ($222-381 / €207-356) per month. SA had repeatedly stated that it was “out of the question” to offer Efling a different and better contract than other unions.

Before the last real negotiation meeting on January 10, Efling submitted an offer of rate increases in the range of ISK 40-59,000 ($277-409 / €259-382) per month. Additionalliy, the union demanded an ISK 15,000 ($104 / €97) increase in the so-called cost-of-living compensation.

Sólveig Anna stated that the offer still stood and, prior to the meeting yesterday morning, noted that the gap between the parties was not that wide. “It’s not that far apart in terms of money. It’s about [SA’s] pride and whether they are going to let it work for the interests of Efling’s 20,000 members,” she told RÚV.

Proper talks could begin

At 5 PM, Ástráður Haraldsson told reporters that, in his opinion, there was a possibility of engaging in “real collective bargaining negotiations” in the dispute between Efling and SA. He had spent the entire day with the negotiation committees of SA and Efling, meeting each of them separately, although he did not consider “proper talks” having actually begun.

“We’ve been trying to discover the nature of such talks and whether it would be possible to engage in such talks,” Ástráður told RÚV.

Talks renewed at 8 PM

At 6 PM – during a break in the meeting – Eyjólfur Árni Rafnsson, Chair of SA, stepped in for his indisposed colleague and offered an interview to reporters. He told the media that he considered it “overly optimistic” to expect that collective agreements would be signed on that day. Nevertheless, he admitted, it was a “positive sign” whenever people sat down to talk.

At that point, the meeting, which had been going on intermittently since 9 AM, was the longest in the wage dispute to date. Eyjólfur observed that that was “a good thing.”

The meeting resumed at 8 PM, with Ástráður Haraldsson hinting to reporters that the meeting “might run long.” When the meeting began again, Eyjólfur Árni stated: “We’re going to find out if we can see eye to eye and whether we can enter into real negotiations to put this to and end.” Eyjólfur Árni was unwilling to say what exactly SA had proposed, other than that those things that were being discussed with the union were things that SA “would have liked to have discussed in January.”

Meetings finally come to a close

After a long day of meetings, the final sessions finally concluded between 10-11 PM yesterday. Another meeting has been called at 10 AM today.

“We are still in this opening phase and have not managed to enter into actual wage negotiations,” Ástráður Haraldsson told RÚV following the meeting.

As noted by RÚV, although the Efling strikes had only lasted twelve hours, people had already begun stocking up on medicine. The Director of Lyfja, a retail pharmacy, told RÚV yesterday that there was no need for people to stock up on medicines. “There is several months’ supply of medicines in the country, at any given time. Medicines are also, in some cases, life-saving products, and we have received exemptions to carry out this extremely important role of health services, i.e. the distribution of medicines,” Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir told RÚV.

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