Women, Non-Binary Persons, to Go on Full-Day Strike in October

Iceland’s BSRB federation and 31 associations are organising a strike on October 24 to address gender-based violence and the undervaluing of women-dominated professions, Mbl.is reports. Inspired by the 1975 women’s strike, the demonstration places special emphasis on non-binary individuals, aiming to challenge patriarchal subordination across all gender identities.

Can’t wait any longer

While there has been progress in the fight for women’s rights in Iceland, there is still a long way to go, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of the BSRB Federation of Workers Unions, told Mbl.is yesterday. BSRB is among 31 associations orchestrating a widespread strike of women and non-binary individuals (i.e. kvár) on Tuesday, October 24.

According to Sonja, the organisers of the strike hope that this year’s demonstration will surpass the turnout of the seminal 1975 Icelandic women’s strike when about 90% of women in Iceland ceased work to underline the significance of women in the labour market and within society.

“The seeds for holding a women’s strike this year were sown around the 40th anniversary of the Women’s List (a feminist political party that took part in national politics between 1983 and 1999.” A conference was held where the discussion revolved around the achievements so far, as well as the work that remains,” Sonja stated in an interview with Mbl.is. Attendees of the conference agreed that there was still a long way to go in the fight for women’s rights.

“Since the 1975 Icelandic women’s strike was a joint venture of women’s and gender-diverse associations, as well as workers’ associations, the question arose whether a women’s strike should be held. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’; everyone felt the same way, everyone had experienced this stagnation, and everyone believed that progress was not happening fast enough. No one wanted to wait any longer,” Sonja stated.

Twofold demands

Sonja told Mbl.is that the main demands of this year’s women’s strike were twofold: eradicating all gender-based violence and rectifying the undervaluation of so-called women’s professions.

As noted by Mbl.is, by “women’s professions,” Sonja is referring to job sectors where women constitute a significant majority. Research has shown that the primary reason for the gender pay gap is that these sectors are paid lower wages compared to other sectors in the labour market. These professions may even be at the lowest wage levels in the labour market.

“Addressing the wage structures within these professions, correcting this undervaluation constitutes a significant stride towards obliterating the gender pay gap,” Sonja observed.

Gender-based violence

In her interview, Sonja underscored the pervasive nature of gender-based violence in Iceland, calling for measures proportional to the severity and frequency of such incidents.

“An initial focus is on comprehending the scope of gender-based violence, with data revealing that a staggering 40% of women have encountered some form of violence in their lifetime. While substantial efforts have been directed towards aiding women and trans women victimised by gender-based violence, there’s a glaring disparity in the attention towards perpetrators and devising strategies to curb such aggressions,” she remarked.

“The question remains – what steps will our society take to stem this tide, ensuring that perpetrators face stringent consequences, thereby shifting the burden of accountability from the victims to those inflicting harm?” Sonja posited.

An emphasis on gender-queer individuals

This year’s women’s strike is drawing inspiration from the historic 1975 Icelandic women’s strike, where women halted work for a full day to highlight gender injustices. “Unlike the protocol since the 2005 strike – where a specific walkout time was designated – we opted for a full-day strike to underscore our expanded agenda beyond the pay gap, prominently spotlighting violence,” Sonja explained.

A notable addition to this year’s strike is the deliberate inclusion of non-binary issues. “While an open invitation has always existed, this year marks a concerted effort to extend a warmer welcome to non-binary individuals, recognizing their shared subjugation under patriarchal norms akin to women. Despite the gender spectrum they represent, they grapple with a common gender oppressive system,” Sonja noted.

“Our aim is to rally individuals across all gender identities who endure patriarchal subordination, and that we intertwine our struggles,” she added.

Parents to Association of Local Authorities: “Negotiate Now”

Wage negotiations

Parents affected by the ongoing BSRB strikes organised a protest at the headquarters of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) this morning, RÚV reports. No progress has been made in the talks between BSRB and SÍS.

Talks remain at a standstill

Widespread strikes in 29 municipalities by members of BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – are still in full swing. The strikes extend to staff in preschools, swimming pools, sports facilities, service centres, town offices, utility houses, and harbours; and include approximately 2,500 BSRB members and affect the activities of about 70 preschools.

According to Elísabet Ólafsdóttir, assistant state mediator, the situation is being regularly assessed. Elísabet told RÚV that there was “no reason to call the disputing parties into a meeting” since it was considered unlikely to be successful. Inga Rún Ólafsdóttir, Chair of SÍS’ negotiation committee, agreed with Elísabet’s assessment: there was still a significant gap between the negotiation parties’ demands.

Chair of BSRB, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir – who also concurred with the aforementioned view – told RÚV that there had been several reports of strike violations and that BSRB is investigating the validity of these claims; BSRB is currently reviewing whether it will take the municipality Snæfellsbær in West Iceland to Labour Court for strike violations.

“Negotiate – it’s not complicated”

Given this state of affairs between BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS), frustrated parents arrived at the premises of SÍS at 10 am this morning to protest, RÚV reports.

Astrid Jóhanna Kristjánsdóttir, Erla Þórdís Traustadóttir, Esther María Ragnarsdóttir, Birgitta Ragnarsdóttir, and Indiana Rós Ægisdóttir organised the protest, which was attended by approximately 100 people. The organisers are requesting that the conflicting parties negotiate immediately, given that the situation in preschools is “unacceptable.”

“These are some of our most important workers. The towns would be nothing without them. If the towns are nothing without them, we can’t go to work,” Esther told RÚV. When asked if preschool services had been curtailed, Esther replied in the affirmative, explaining that staff had only been allowed to attend for half a day. Her message to SÍS was simple: “Negotiate. It’s not complicated. These are some of our most important workers. This is completely disrespectful. Negotiate.”

Talks Remain at a Standstill Following Today’s Meeting

wage negotiations

The meeting of the negotiation committees of BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) at the state mediator’s offices concluded at noon without an agreement. No new meeting has been called, RÚV reports.

2,500 BSRB members on strike

On May 15, BSRB, Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members, began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS).

BSRB’s strike action has gradually ramped up with 2,500 members going on indefinite strike yesterday. As noted in a press release on BSRB’s website, the current strike affects about 150 workplaces in 29 municipalities and includes “staff in kindergartens, swimming pools, sports facilities, service centres, town offices, utility houses, and harbours.”

As noted by RÚV, both parties had stood firm before today’s meeting; BSRB is demanding a lump sum payment of ISK 128,000 ($904 / €847) to correct the disparity in the salaries of its members compared to other workers who are employed to do the same job. The Chair of the SÍS negotiating committee stated that the demand was unfounded.

In an interview with RÚV prior to the meeting, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated that the federation would not budge from its lump-sum demand: “The message is very clear. We do not have the authority to finalise collective agreements unless there is a guaranteed lump sum payment of ISK 128,000 in order to correct the discrepancy in the wages of our workers compared to people who are employed to do the same jobs … it is simply unacceptable for people to do the same jobs and be paid less. They are doing exactly the same tasks every day, and our people are tired of this inequality.”

Today’s negotiations, held at the offices of the state mediator, began at 10 AM and concluded at just before noon without an agreement being reached.

36 Pools Closed Due to Strikes

Pools across Iceland are being forced to close in the wake of strikes by BSRB. On May 15, BSRB, Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members, began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

In total, 37 pools are affected. 36 pools are closing, with one Westman Island pool continuing operation with limited hours.

Read More: Preschool Staff on Strike in 11 Municipalities

In addition, some 70 preschools throughout Iceland are also affected by the public sector strike. Since the parties to the most recent contract negotiation have not been able to come to an understanding, the strike has affected 29 municipalities.

Freyja Steingrímsdóttir, communications director for BSRB, stated to Morgunblaðið: “to my knowledge, they are essentially all closed. It’s a safety measure that all working staff are trained, so when this happens, the swimming pools need to be closed.”

Read More: Strikes Likely to Force Closure of Swimming Pools

The strike could also have an impact on the June 17th (Iceland’s National Day) celebrations throughout the nation, Freyja stated. “This is a temporary strike,” she streed. “There is no activity, no practices, or anything while this continues unchanged,” she stated.

In addition to pools and preschools, municipal offices and nursing homes throughout Iceland are also seeing reduced operations as BSRB continue their negotiations with SNS.

Preschool Staff on Strike in 11 Municipalities

school children

Staff at 60 preschools in 11 municipalities went on strike today as negotiations between BSRB, the Federation of Public Worker Unions in Iceland and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) remain at a standstill. Other municipal staff across the country, including swimming pool and harbour staff, are already striking. Negotiators had an informal meeting two days ago but called it a step backwards.

“It was an informal meeting, so it wasn’t a traditional negotiation meeting,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, told RÚV. “But the result of the meeting was that we went backwards rather than forwards, so this dispute is still just in a deadlock.”

Today’s strikes affect preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, Árborg, the Westman Islands, Skagafjörður, Borgarbyggð, Stykkishólmur, Grundarfjörður, and Snæfellsbær. On Wednesday, harbour staff in Ölfus and the Westman Islands will strike.

BRSB has demanded that the collective agreement be retroactive from the beginning of this year, but the SÍS negotiating committee has resisted agreeing to such an arrangement.

Strikes Likely to Force Closure of Swimming Pools This Weekend

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

Strikes by members of the BSRB union who are employed by swimming pools will most likely force the closure of public pools in West, North, and East Iceland over the Whit Sunday weekend. Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told Mbl.is today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS), although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

Strikes begin

On May 15, BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Further strike action was approved last Friday, May 19, which means that this weekend, the number of people participating in BSRB strikes will be around 1,700. Eighteen municipalities will be affected by the strikes.

As noted in an announcement from BSRB this morning, the staff of swimming pools and sports centres in West, North, and East Iceland are among those who will begin strikes this weekend. This will most likely mean that numerous public pools within affected municipalities will be forced to close their doors to visitors over the Whit Sunday weekend.

“If agreements are not reached before June 5, swimming pools and sports centres will be added in even more municipalities, including the capital area, until agreements are reached,” the announcement further notes.

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told Mbl.is today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities; although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

The staff of the following swimming pools and sports facilities will stop working this weekend:

Akureyri
Akureyri swimming pool
Glerárskóli swimming pool (Glerárskóli Sports Centre)
The sports centre in Hrísey (swimming pool and gym)

Dalvíkurbyggð
Dalvík sports centre (swimming pool)

Fjallabyggð
The swimming pool in Ólafsfjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Ólafsfjörður
The swimming pool in Siglufjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Siglufjörður

Skagafjörður
The swimming pool in Varmahlíð and the Varmahlíð sports centre
Sauðárkrókur swimming pool and the Sauðárkrókur sports centre
The swimming pool in Hofsós

Fjarðabyggð
Stefánslaug in Neskaupstaður

Borgarbyggð
Swimming pool and sports centre in Borgarnes

Snæfellsbær
Snæfellsbær swimming pool and sports centre

Vesturbyggð
Brattahlíð, swimming pool in Patreksfjörður

Union Leaders Express Alarm at Central Bank’s Interest-Rate Hike

Ásgeir Jónsson, Governor of the Central Bank of Iceland

The Central Bank’s decision this morning to raise key interest rates by 1.25% has sparked a strong response from union leaders. Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, has stated that the government needs to act to protect the most vulnerable. The Chair of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS) has remarked that Icelandic households are being “devastated.”

Government needs to respond

In an interview with the radio programme Morgunvaktin (i.e. the Morning Shift), Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated that it was necessary for the government to respond to the Central Bank’s decision to raise key interest rates, which currently sits at 8.75%.

“These actions have the greatest impact on those who earn the least. After all, inflation bites them the hardest. The government needs to take action to support this group, so as to see all of us through this period.”

As noted by RÚV, a new survey by Varða found that around half of wage earners are finding it difficult to make ends meet, with single parents and individuals in the rental market being particularly affected.

“It appears that action needs to be taken to support them. Then we look at the child benefit system and also that there needs to be some kind of rental brake and more support for those who are on the rental market,” Sonja observed. Interest rate hikes will hit those who have signed non-indexed mortgages at variable rates the hardest.

“There is also this question of how to assist this group. We’ve been hoping to ensure that overall housing support, whether you own or are renting, takes your financial situation into account,” Sonja concluded by saying.

A “knockout blow”

Finnbjörn A. Hermannsson, President of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) told Mbl.is that the Central Bank’s decision to raise interest rates was “a knockout blow” to households in the country.

“Naturally, this is a complete knockout blow for households in the country. It’s that simple. It seems to me that the Central Bank is seeking recourse in the banks’ propaganda department. The Central Bank is clearly afraid of the banks, content to allow households to suffer … everyone seems to have realized, aside from the Central Bank itself, that the decision to raise interest rates only serves to fuel inflation.”

Icelandic households are being “devastated”

Vilhjálmur Birgisson, Chair of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), told Mbl.is. this morning that he was “shocked” by the Central Bank’s decision.

“I can say that I am utterly shocked over this path that the Central Bank has chosen. Let’s keep in mind that since we signed the collective agreements, policy rates have increased by 3%.” Vilhjálmur added that this single increase was just below the total interest rate increases of other nations since the start of the Ukrainian war.

When asked what effect he thought this increase would have on the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations this fall, Vilhjálmur responded with dismay: “I don’t know how on Earth we’re going to manage this situation that has arisen among Icelandic households. It’s absolutely crazy.”

“In the end,” Vilhjálmur continued, “inflation will start to decrease and, believe you me, the Central Bank will tout its success and say, ‘You see, we’ve succeeded.’” He added that Icelandic homes were being “devastated” by the Central Bank’s decision.

“The reason for the high rates in Iceland is the indexation. In this country, the bank managers sit back because they know they’re protected on all sides by the indexation; it’s become completely intolerable.”

At a press conference this morning, Þórarinn G. Pétursson, the Central Bank’s chief economist, addressed the idea that the increase in the number of households with indexed loans meant that the Central Bank’s monetary policy was no longer effective:

“Unlike what has been claimed in the public discourse, this does not matter. The influence of monetary policy is the same whether the share of index-linked loans is large or small,” he observed. “Claims that monetary policy pushes people into index-linked loans are true. Claims that it affects the mediation process of the Monetary Policy Committee are false.”

Further Strike Action by BSRB Members Begins Today

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

Further strike action by members of BSRB began today. A week has passed since preschool and primary school workers went on strike in Kópavogur, Mosfellsbær, Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes. Today, strikes will extend to the same workers in Hveragerði, Árborg, and the Westman Islands, including primary school employees in Hafnarfjörður.

Further strike action beginning today

On May 15, BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Last Friday, BSRB members in 29 municipalities approved strike action in a vote that ended at noon. Votes were cast in each municipality separately, but the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority in all of them, according to information from BSRB.

Primary school workers in Hafnarfjörður and Ölfus will begin strikes today. On Tuesday and Wednesday, four other municipalities will join in the strike action. On Thursday, only primary school workers in Seltjarnarnes will be on strike (preschool staff in five municipalities will also be on strike). As noted by Mbl.is, port workers in Ölfus will also go on strike today.

The strike actions will have some effect in the coming weeks, except in Reykjavík. As noted by RÚV, Reykjavík is the only municipality in the country that negotiates directly with BSRB, and a collective agreement was signed last month. Other local authorities normally delegate their bargaining authority to the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

Same wages for the same jobs

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, has emphasised the federation’s demand that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities 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.

A schedule of BSRB’s strike action over the coming days and weeks may be viewed here:

BSRB

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.

BSRB Strike Action to Begin Monday

school children

Strikes by members of the BSRB union are set to begin on Monday. A meeting between BSRB representatives and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS) at the state mediator’s office has proven unsuccessful. No new meeting has been called.

The largest federation of unions in the public sector

BSRB is the largest federation of public worker unions in Iceland. As noted on the union’s website, all trade unions operating in the public service, whether within the state, municipal, or private sector, are eligible to apply for membership to BSRB. The federation was established on February 14, 1942, and counts 19 affiliated unions with over 23,000 members. About two third of the members are women.

As noted by Mbl.is, a meeting between BSRB representatives and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS), held at the state mediator’s office today, was unsuccessful. “There has, in fact, been no progress. We didn’t sense much willingness to negotiate on the part of SNS,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated in an interview with Mbl.is Sonja clarified that the mediators saw no reason to schedule another meeting. Strikes will, therefore, begin on Monday.

As noted by Mbl.is, the strikes will be undertaken by 977 workers at kindergartens, primary schools and after-school centres in Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, and Seltjarnarnes. Additional strikes are scheduled for each passing week if no agreement is reached.

SNS must face up to the situation

In an announcement from SNS, the union encourages the leadership of BSRB to take its case in the union’s wage dispute to court and request that it be expedited. SNS says that if the court’s decision shows that the association is in the wrong, then the salary of union members will be redressed.

“It’s up to them to resolve this dispute without going to court. We currently have two options: on the one hand, to make a new collective agreement, where this inequality is corrected; or, on the other hand, to go to court. The position of our workers is very clear: they intend to take action to ensure that this inequality is remedied. I think that SNS has to start facing up this situation,” Sonja Ýr observed.

When asked if BSRB would consider taking the dispute to court, if strike action did not bring about the desired result, Sonja responded thusly: “I’m not worried that such large-scale operations will not achieve anything. I think it’s only a matter of time before the association will have to accept the situation,” Sonja concluded by saying.