Court of Appeal Overturns Verdict, Mediator Steps Aside

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) has ruled that the Efling union does not need to hand over its membership registry to the state mediator, RÚV reports. Following the ruling, the state mediator requested permission from the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market to step aside. The Director General of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) has stated that he regrets the mediator’s decision.

Court of Appeal overturns ruling

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal overturned the Reykjavík District Court’s ruling in the labour dispute between the Efling union and SA: the Efling union is not legally obliged to hand over its membership registry prior to voting on the mediator’s mediation proposal, RÚV reports.

The court ruled that the state mediator is allowed to take the initiative to hold a vote; however, nowhere does the law state that a party in a labour dispute is obliged to hand over its membership registry to the state mediator prior to voting takes place.

The mediator’s authority to demand membership registries was enshrined in a law on mediation in labour disputes – which was abolished in 1978. The verdict of the Appeal Court quoted a speech by the  then Chairperson of the Social Affairs Committee who advocated the change. In the speech, the Chairperson stated that the purpose of the repeal was to reduce the power or position of the mediator.

RÚV notes that Efling and the state mediator struck an agreement last week to accept the court’s decision and abstain from appealing the decision of the Court of the Appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a statement from Efling sent to the media yesterday, the union demanded that state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson resign from the dispute immediately. “This is the worst imaginable verdict on the working methods of the state mediator,” Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the Chair of the Efling union, was quoted as saying.

Guðmundur accepts Aðalstein’s request

After the ruling by the Court of Appeal yesterday, Aðalsteinn Leifsson told the media that he would be requesting permission from the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, to step down from his role as mediator between Efling and SA.

“My opinion is that, under the circumstances,” Aðalsteinn Leifsson told Vísir yesterday, “the character should always give way to the issue, which is why I suggested to the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Market that appointing a special mediator in this dispute, or a mediating committee, might prove wise. I would then step aside in this particular dispute and pass the baton over to others, in hopes that they find a solution. The minister is currently mulling my suggestion over.”

Yesterday evening, Vísir reported that Guðmundur Ingi had accepted Aðalsteinn’s request and that an assistant mediator would be appointed to resolve the dispute.

Expects further developments over the coming days

In an interview with RÚV yesterday evening, Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director General of SA, said that he regretted the state mediator’s decision to withdraw from the wage dispute – but that he supported his decision. Halldór Benjamín added that yesterday’s ruling did not change the fact that the mediating proposal was valid and legitimate in all respects.

“There are indeed a lot of twists and turns in this dispute,” Halldór Benjamín told RÚV, “and I think that there will be even more twists and turns in the coming days.”

State Mediator to Drop Enforcement Request Against Efling

efling union hotel strike

State Mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson has withdrawn his enforcement request to the sheriff’s office, following a meeting with Efling legal team. Vísir reports.

In the wake of failed negotiations between Efling trade union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), the state mediator has invoked his ability to the put the terms of the suggested deal directly to Efling members, bypassing their negotiating team. To do so, member registries have been requested from Efling, who have countered that the registry does not exist.

Read More: Majority Vote in Favour of Strike Action

Sólveig, chairperson of Efling trade union, stated recently to Vísir: “We have no obligation to prepare data that does not exist. This electoral register does not exist. […] In the District Court, an expedited hearing was requested by those who submitted this procedural request and then the subpoena. The request to expedite was approved, it took about four days in total. I believe that Efling’s request for an expedited hearing in our appeal case will be accepted. If it not, it is in my opinion extremely surprising and a sign of the inequality in our system. […] There should be a final result in this case, and until it is before us, it is Efling’s position that the electoral roll should not be prepared and delivered.”

Read More: Union Strike Ruled Legal

However, the state mediator has now withdrawn his request to enforce the order.

On February 6, the Reykjavík District Court ruled that Efling is indeed obliged to hand over the data in question. Efling chairperson Sóveig had previously stated her intention to appeal the matter, but Efling has now agreed to obey the order if the district court ruling is confirmed at the national level.

The Efling strike began Tuesday, February 7, and affects some seven Reykjavík hotels.




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.

State Mediator Not Fearful of Losing Unions’ Trust

Aðalsteinn Leifsson

The state mediator does not fear that he has lost the trust of the unions, despite the reaction to his mediating proposal in the dispute between the Efling Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), RÚV reports. The proposal was submitted as a result of unprecedentedly tough negotiations.

Efling refuses to submit electoral roll

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson does not fear that his mediation proposal in the dispute between the Efling Union and SA may have permanently damaged the office’s relationship with the unions – despite the recent condemnations.

“I listen to the comments that are made about my work, but I reiterate my point that I submitted this proposal after careful consideration,” Aðalsteinn told RÚV today.

The proposal puts the same agreement that SA previously agreed upon by other unions to a vote among members of Efling. Efling’s Chair, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, has repeatedly described it as bad for workers. In order for the state mediator to oversee the vote, he needs an electoral roll (a list of Efling members eligible to vote) – which Efling’s Chair does not intend to hand over.

“By refusing to hand over the electoral roll, Efling is standing in the way of members being able to vote on the proposal. If we do not receive the list, we must explore alternative options,” Aðalsteinn stated.

An “unprecedented” round of negotiations

When Aðalsteinn presented his proposal at a press conference yesterday, he stated that the reason for the proposal was the “unprecedented situation” that had arisen in the negotiations. As noted by RÚV, however, strikes have been employed throughout the years without any attempt to avert them with a mediating proposal.

According to Aðalsteinn, what makes the situation “unprecedented” is not the prospect of strikes, but because of the “unprecedented” nature of the negotiations.

“This dispute stands out in that it has been extremely difficult to get any kind of conversation about possible solutions going,” he concluded.

State Mediator’s Proposal Meets With Criticism from Efling and SA

SA / Efling Union

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson presented his mediation proposal in the wage dispute between Efling and SA at a press conference yesterday. The proposal met with criticism from both SA and the Efling Union. The state mediator believes that he is well within his legal rights.

A controversial step, setting a questionable precedent

Yesterday, State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson presented a special mediating proposal (i.e. miðlunartillaga) to resolve the dispute between the Efling Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). Negotiations between the two parties have devolved into a sort of Gordian knot, with the last meeting between Efling and SA lasting only a minute. The proposal means that members of the Efling union will have to vote on the same contract previously agreed upon by other unions.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of Efling, told RÚV yesterday that she believed the state mediator had broken the law with his proposal: he had not consulted with Efling. Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director of SA, struck a similar note, arguing that it was “the right of the disputing parties” to bring the case to a conclusion.

State Mediator defends his proposal

Following the response from Efling and SA, Aðalsteinn sent out a press release yesterday in which he rejected any claims about the illegality of the proposal. A mediating proposal was one of the resources available to the state mediator to try to ensure peace in the labour market.

“Given the state of the dispute between SA and Efling, it was my assessment, the office’s assessment, that it was inevitable to try this remedy.”

Aðalsteinn admitted that the labour legislation imposes the duty on the state mediator to consult with the parties to a wage dispute before submitting such a proposal: this applies to the content of the proposal and the procedure for voting.

“And that’s why I called representatives of both parties to a meeting with me today for this purpose. I discussed it with them before the proposal was made public. This obligation to consult the parties, however, does not imply that they have the right to intervene or veto the proposal.”

As noted by RÚV, Aðalsteinn denies that the way in which the proposal was presented was illegal in any way. When asked if the parties to a dispute should be familiar with the content of the legislation, he replied that the law was very clear as regards the authorisation of a mediating proposal. “It is also very clear in the labour legislation that when a mediation proposal has been submitted, a vote must take place.”

The proposal a “monstrosity”

Sólveig Anna went on to describe the proposal as a “monstrosity” (i.e. óskapnaður) that failed to mediate anything. Efling’s point of view had not been taken into account: the state mediator was simply imposing SA’s offer on the Efling Union.

Aðalsteinn replied that this was far from the case. He was not proposing an agreement from SA but rather one that the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS) had negotiated with SA.

“After very difficult and demanding wage negotiations – where an agreement was struck. This agreement has since been approved by an overwhelming majority of votes in all of the eighteen unions within SGS. It should also be noted that this agreement includes the highest proportional increases that have been settled in this round of wage negotiations, within the general labour market, over the past weeks and months.”

Efling yet to submit its membership list

At the time of writing, the Efling union had not submitted its membership list to the state mediator; the deadline was 8 PM yesterday. As noted by RÚV, Efling is thereby shirking its statutory duty, given that the office of the state mediator has the right to receive the membership list.

Elísabet S. Ólafsdóttir, Chief of Staff at the State Mediator’ office, told RÚV yesterday that the office would have to consider its next steps: “At this stage, we can send Efling another notice. If the notice proves ineffective, it may eventually be necessary to obtain a ruling from the district court to force delivery.”

The proposal will be put to a vote by the members of Efling and voting will begin at 12 noon on Saturday and continue until 5 PM on Tuesday.

This article will be updated