Vote on New Mediating Proposal Closing, Results Expected Soon

A vote on the temporarily-appointed state mediator’s new proposal will end at 10 AM today. The results of the vote are expected to be in shortly thereafter.

Results expected shortly after voting closes

On March 1, temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference to announce that representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling union had agreed to vote on his new mediating proposal. While voting took place, all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts were to be postponed.

Voting began at noon, Friday, March 3, and it is set to conclude at 10 AM this morning.

As previously noted, the new wage agreement between Efling and SA, as provided by the proposal, would be fully retroactive from November 1, 2022, and salary increases would be tantamount to those stipulated in agreements signed by other unions. The contract would, however, differ in two respect from other similar contracts: a new job title for general hotel staff (i.e. almennt starfsfólk gistihúsa) would be created and drivers of the oil companies and Samskip would receive additional hazard pay.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, has stated that she would vote in favour of the proposal.

The website of the Office of the State Mediator notes that the wage rates in the main collective agreement will increase between ISK 35,000 ($246 / €233) and ISK 52,258 ($368 / €349) ISK per month, the average increase being about ISK 42,000 ($295 / €280). The relative increase in wage rates is between 9.5% and 13%, with the average increase being over 11%.

This article will be updated.

Voting on New Mediating Proposal “the Right Decision”

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, believes that putting the state mediator’s new proposal to a vote was “the right decision.” Sólveig told Vísir that claiming that any kind of victory had been achieved was preposterous, given that  SA had been unwilling to negotiate directly with Efling.

Lockouts and strikes postponed

After temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson announced this morning that Efling and SA had agreed to vote on a new mediating proposal – and that all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts would be postponed – Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the Chair of the Efling union, shared her reaction to the proposal with the media.

In an interview with Vísir, Sólveig stated that she was unwilling to say whether or not she recommended that Efling members vote in favour of the new proposal – but that it was, nevertheless, “the right decision to hold a vote;” the impending lockout and wage improvements for maids and truck drivers were among the reasons why Efling’s negotiating committee had agreed to vote on the proposal.

“This is a legally presented media proposal. It is, of course, clear that SA does not intend, and will not sign a collective agreement with Efling,” Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir commented.

Asked what it was in the mediator’s proposal that convinced Efling’s negotiating committee to put it to a vote, Sólveig Anna referred to the fact, among other things, that hotel maids and Samskip drivers would be moved up a pay bracket; that an agreement had been reached with the employers of striking drivers regarding a bonus for transporting hazardous material; and that full retroactivity of the wage agreement had been negotiated (active from November of last year).

“Being presented with this legal mediation proposal, given that there was this devastating lockout on the horizon, I – as the chair of this association, and as the chair of the negotiating committee – […] felt that, in a conversation with the committee, that this was something on which our members could vote. And I believe it is the right decision,” Sólveig Anna told Vísir.

Up to Efling members to decide

Sólveig Anna also told Vísir that although she was unwilling to say, as previously noted, whether she would recommend that Efling members vote on the proposal, she would do her job: “Of course, I will do what I have to do as Efling Chair, and as the chair of the negotiating committee, which is to clarify what has happened – to clearly explain the content of the proposal, alongside anything else that was discussed yesterday. It is then up to the members themselves to decide how they vote,” Sólveig Anna explained.

Sólveig was likewise unwilling to speculate whether the new proposal would serve to end the wage dispute; if she had signed a collective agreement that she and the negotiating committee had struck, and with which they were happy, then she would have certainly encouraged members to vote in favour of it.

“There are simply different rules to the game when it comes to a mediating proposal, but I will, as I’ve stated, do my job,” Sólveig Anna observed.

Strikers “the real heroes” of the labour movement

Sólveig Anna reiterated her displeasure with the fact that SA had refused to enter into a collective agreement with Efling. Labour improvements had been made for staff, including hotel maids and drivers, who had been willing to strike. However, Sólveig noted, no one could claim that any kind of victory had been achieved, given that it had proved impossible to reach a collective agreement – and that a mediation proposal had been the only way forward.

Efling had, however, won certain smaller victories when it came to the dispute: the organisational and fighting power of the union was obvious to everyone: “These are the real heroes of the Icelandic labour struggle: low-wage workers who show that they know what they’re worth,” Sólveig Anna remarked.

Sólveig also considered the fact that Efling had not been forced to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) to the Office of the State Mediator, in order to vote on Aðalsteinn Leifsson’s initial mediation proposal – which Sólveig Anna described as “illegal” – as a victory.

Given the state of the dispute, Efling’s negotiating committee believed that it was impossible to continue. SA was “ready to do everything in its power” to avoid entering into a collective agreement with Efling and “deprive the company of its independent bargaining rights.”

“It would be absurd for anyone to perceive that as a victory,” she stated.

A warning for the future

Finally, Sólveig Anna warned the members of the labour market not to act against Efling in the future:

“I truly hope that those parties within the Icelandic labour market who have lobbied for the union to be deprived of its independent bargaining rights will think twice before doing it again,” said Sólveig Anna, who described Efling as “the most powerful labour union in the country.”

Vote on New Proposal Approved, Strikes and Lockout Postponed

State mediator

Temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference at 10 AM this morning. 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 the proposed lockout would be postponed while voting took place.

Voting to begin on Friday

“Good morning, I’ve called this meeting because I’ve decided to submit a new mediating proposal in the dispute between SA and the Efling union,” temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson told reporters at a press conference that began at 10 AM this morning.

“This mediating proposal will replace the old one, which was originally submitted on January 26. The involved parties have agreed to put the proposal to a vote, which will be conducted on the website of the State Mediator’s Office. Voting will begin on Friday, March 3, at noon, and it will conclude on Wednesday, March 8. We believe that the results will be in shortly thereafter. The parties have also agreed to postpone all ongoing and impending strikes and the lockout beginning at noon today and until the results are in.”

Ástráður added that the new proposal was very similar to the original one; the agreement would be retroactive and salary increases would be the same as stipulated in agreements signed by other unions. “There is one item that is different. There is an alteration to the employment title for general workers in guesthouses and their respective salary bracket, but otherwise, it’s the same agreement as signed in the SGS agreement.”

Ástráður also noted that the parties would have six days to vote on the proposal to ensure that as many people as possible could vote.

Things evolve over time

When asked to pinpoint what exactly had led to this resolution, Ástráður responded thusly:

“It’s always the case, in such disputes, that life goes on, and things change, and we’ve had strikes going on for nine or ten days straight, which affects these negotiations. But the main thing is that the parties managed to conclude certain matters that aren’t a part of the proposal itself – and which have nothing to do with my role in these negotiations – but that matter in their communications and their future relationship. They managed to wrap that up yesterday. So they’ve agreed to vote on the proposal. But we’ll have to wait for the results.”

Ástráður clarified the above point by pointing to certain side agreements, aside from the main wage negotiations, that aren’t addressed directly in the proposal itself, but that were crucial to the proposal being approved. When asked if the negotiating committees would encourage members to approve of the proposal, Ástráður was unwilling to say.

Displeased with the retroactive clause of the agreement

Vísir also spoke to Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director of SA, who stated that he would need to place the proposal within its proper context. The dispute had been locked in a Gordian knot and that the parties were worn out after long negotiations. The strikes and impending lockout also had an effect.

“We expect that the disputing parties will encourage members to approve of the proposal,” Halldór stated, emphasising that the wage agreement stipulated in the new proposal was, in its material substance, the same as the original proposal. He also stated that he was not pleased with the fact that the agreements would be retroactive, as he did not want to reward unions for going on strike.

“Everyone had to yield certain demands … the magic often occurs in the grey areas,” Halldór observed. He concluded by saying that he was greatly displeased with the nature of the two parties’ discourse over the past weeks.

This article was updated at 10:46 AM

Clock Winding Down on New Mediating Proposal

The clock is winding down for temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson; with a 20,000-worker lockout set to begin on Monday, Ástráður would need to submit a new mediating proposal sooner than later – if there is to be a vote on the proposal prior to the lockout. As noted by Vísir, Ástráður also occupies a narrower position following a ruling by the Court of Appeal, given that he has to be certain that both parties to the dispute would agree to a vote on his proposal.

No substantive result

After temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called for a “ceasefire” prior to a meeting between SA and Efling on Monday night, SA decided to heed the mediator’s suggestion by postponing its planned 20,000-worker lockout (originally slated to begin on March 1). Likewise, Efling signalled its willingness to cooperate by postponing all further strike action.

When the meeting concluded, in the early hours of February 28, however, Ástráður Haraldsson announced that no substantive result had been reached; he told reporters that he had hoped to convince the parties to vote on a new mediating proposal.

Such an agreement was the basis for the submission of said proposal given that the Court of Appeal had ruled in February that Efling was not required to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) to the Office of the State Mediator with regard to the original mediating proposal, submitted on January 26. In light of this ruling, Ástráður Haraldsson could hardly submit a new proposal without the disputing parties assuring him that it would be put to a vote.

Media blackout

Prior to the meeting on Monday, Ástráður Haraldsson instructed members of each party’s negotiating committee not to speak to the media during the negotiations. He also closed his meetings to the media.

As noted by Vísir, Stefán Ólafsson – an expert in the labour market and standard-of-living research at Efling, and one of the company’s negotiators – shook the weak foundations of the negotiations shortly before noon yesterday by contravening the mediator’s instructions and publishing a post on Facebook.

He wrote that the meeting last night was “put on hold” while SA’s negotiating committee mused on whether to allow the submission of a new proposal: “At the end of the day, it’s food for thought for me: how long people who earn millions of króna a month can mull over an ISK one-thousand salary increase for workers – to no avail,” Stefán wrote.

Ástráður Haraldsson was displeased with Stefán’s statements; first of all, he had asked the negotiating parties to refrain from public comment in light of the sensitive state of the negotiations.

“Secondly, according to the law on trade unions and labour disputes, it is expressly forbidden to publicly report … on statements made in negotiating meetings without the authorisation of the other party, that is, without the consent of both parties. Thirdly, which is perhaps worst of all,  Stefán’s account was simply not true,” Ástráður stated in an interview on Bylgjan yesterday afternoon.

Watching from the sidelines

As noted by Vísir, if no agreement is reached – or no consensus regarding the new proposal is achieved, so that it’s submitted for a vote by both parties over the next 24 hours – it is likely that the government will begin to get worried. However, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir that it was “not yet time” for the government to intervene.

“My assessment of the situation is that the appointed mediator has determinedly worked his way through the issues. He’s really left no stone unturned and continued to explore all options at the meeting [Monday]. We’ll have to wait and see whether he thinks that it’s timely to reconvene the negotiating parties. While people are still sitting down at the negotiating table, I remain hopeful that a successful resolution to the dispute can be achieved,” Katrín stated after a government meeting today.

Katrín added that the government would continue to monitor the situation closely.

“What we’ve been doing, as I’ve previously stated, is assessing the impact of the ongoing strikes. That assessment changes from day to day. After the meeting was called [on Monday], of course, SA’s lockout was postponed. It changes our assessment of the situation so that we do not consider it timely to intervene in the dispute at this point in time,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir yesterday.

Efling Suspends Strikes, Talks to Resume at 10 AM

Efling union

Efling’s negotiating committee has postponed all strikes until Sunday. The Director of SA’s Labour Market Division says no victory has been won; the postponements are primarily a way to ensure peace to negotiate, RÚV reports. Talks are set to resume 10 AM Friday.

The suspension of strikes not a victory

Efling’s negotiating committee has agreed to postpone all strikes until Sunday so that “formal talks” can begin with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). Ástráður Haraldsson, temporarily appointed state mediator, told RÚV that a decision had been made to impose a media ban on the negotiating committees and that the plan was to conclude the talks this weekend. Whether or not the negotiations would prove successful would have to be seen.

Ragnar Árnason, Director of SA’s Labour Market Division, clarified that the postponement of strikes was not an upshot of the negotiations but was primarily about ensuring peace to work: It is difficult to call people to a meeting when they’re busy monitoring strikes and putting out fires in their places of work.

Ragnar stated that SA requested that the strikes be postponed longer but that the decision was up to Efling and SA was not in a position to make further demands. “We’ll see what the next few days bring, that is if we have to postpone strikes again if things go well this weekend.” Ragnar does not consider the suspension of strikes a victory; companies had suffered a lot of damage during the cessation of work.

The right decision at this time

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of Efling, told RÚV that the union’s negotiating committee had weighed the decision to postpone strikes for “a long time.” The committee had concluded that this was the right thing to do, given the situation. “We would never have made this decision unless we believed that talks were progressing, that something was happening, that there was something to be gained.”

Sólveig added that things would clear up soon enough. Efling would attend tomorrow’s meeting and the negotiating committee was prepared to hold discussions for as long as necessary. She admitted that it had been a difficult decision to postpone the strikes because strikes are “their weapons.” “They’ve gotten us to this place; we’re headed towards real wage negotiations.”

No Postponement of Strikes Without Meaningful Offer

Sólveig Anna

Representatives of the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) attended a meeting with temporarily appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson at 10 AM this morning. Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of Efling, stated that the union would not consider postponing strikes unless a meaningful offer was made, Vísir reports.

No postponement without a meaningful offer

Ástráður Haraldsson began meeting with the two disputing parties at 9 AM yesterday. After a long day of discussion, Ástráður told the media that they were still trying to determine whether there was a basis for actual, substantive wage negotiations.

In an article in Morgunblaðið today, SA stated that postponing strikes was the basis for continued negotiations.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir responded to this statement in an interview with Vísir this morning. “Efling will not postpone strike action unless a meaningful offer is made by SA; there really would have to be some meat on the bones in that respect.”

When asked if she was optimistic about the negotiations, Sólveig was unwilling to say: “Let’s see. I don’t really know what will happen in the next few hours. The Efling negotiation committee and I hope, as we have always hoped, that Efling agreements will be signed with Efling members.”

Unwise to rely on government intervention

Eyjólfur Árni Rafnsson, the Chair of SA – who will be leading the negotiations on behalf of SA in the absence of the indisposed Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson – told Vísir that he had first read about SA’s demand regarding the postponement strikes in the news this morning. He had not made such a statement himself.

“We are sitting down at 10 AM. I hope it will be a long day. The fact that negotiations are taking place is remarkable. If it’s a short day, it’s not as remarkable.”

When asked about the rather combative statements that were being made by the opposing camps, and if it wasn’t advisable to spare them, Eyjólfur Árni replied: “Sure, it’s always best to show constraint. We are sitting down to talk. We’re going to throw ourselves into this wholeheartedly.”

Eyjólfur Árni concluded by saying that it was SA’s role to work towards agreements as opposed to relying on a possible intervention from the government.

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

Ástráður, Halldór Benjamín

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.

Temporarily Appointed State Mediator to Meet with Efling, SA Today

If a strike among oil and truck drivers, set to begin at noon today, becomes a reality, fuel could run out in the capital area as early as Thursday evening. Product shortages could also mean the closing of grocery stores, RÚV reports. Ástráður Haraldsson, the temporarily appointed state mediator in place of Aðalsteinn Leifsson, has called a meeting with representatives from the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) this morning at 9 AM.

Isavia with fuel for 7-10 days

Barring any new developments, 500 hotel employees in Reykjavík and more than 70 freight and oil distribution truck drivers are set to go on strike at noon. The strike could have far-reaching effects in the Southwest corner of Iceland, RÚV reports.

According to information from Isavia – the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland – the company’s fuel reserves are sufficient to sustain operations at Keflavík Airport for seven to ten days. As noted by a press release from Efling yesterday, Efling granted 70 exemption requests yesterday evening (three were denied), but it remains to be seen whether Isava will file for an exemption. Among those who successfully applied for exemptions were the National Police Commissioner, the capital area fire department, the Red Cross, Strætó, the National Broadcaster (RÚV), and the winter service of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration.

Ástráður Haraldsson, the temporarily appointed state mediator in place of Aðalsteinn Leifsson – who stepped aside following a ruling by the Court of Appeal – has called a meeting with representatives from the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) this morning at 9 AM. The Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market has stated that the government will not intervene in the dispute at this time.

Grocery Stores Could Close

Guðmundur Marteinsson, CEO of the grocery store Bónus, told RÚV that the store’s shelves are adequately stocked to last through the weekend. After the weekend, however, if there is a shortage of products in the capital area, stores may have to be closed.

In an interview with Fréttablaðið yesterday, Guðmundur stated that Bónus had been preparing for strikes by placing larger-than-usual orders. When asked if the truck drivers’ strike would affect some products more than others, Guðmundur replied that almost all of Bónus’ entire range of products would be affected. “We get products delivered every single day, there is not a lot of space to store large overstocks.”

Gas stations could run dry in a matter of days

An article on Vísir yesterday noted that the sale of gasoline and oil had increased significantly, with drivers having brought various containers to the pump in order to store gasoline in the event of a long strike. The CEO of N1, Hinrik Örn Bjarnason, told Vísir that customers could begin to feel the effect of the strike as early as this evening.

“I’ve been driving between our stations yesterday and today. Last night, I saw people filling up old oil drums. There have been a lot of different kinds of bottles and containers sold,” Hinrik Örn remarked.