Parents, Community Appalled by Brutal Bullying Case

Ísabella Von

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir and her twelve-year-old daughter Ísabella Von Sædísardóttir opened up to local media yesterday about the brutal campaign of bullying that the latter has suffered at the hands of classmates. Abusers encouraged Ísabella to “try again,” following a failed suicide attempt. Parents must shoulder greater responsibility, the Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council has stated.

Hateful messages and physical abuse

As reported by RÚV yesterday, Ísabella Von is an eighth-grader at the Hraunvallaskóli primary school in Hafnarfjörður. Having long been bullied by her classmates, she recently attempted suicide by overdosing on her mother’s prescription drugs. Ísabella notified her mother, who drove her to the Children’s Hospital for treatment. She returned home yesterday.

“I felt like everyone would be happy if I went through with it. That’s what everyone has told me,” Ísabella told RÚV.

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir, Ísabella’s mother, maintains that she can name at least 35 children who have sent her daughter hateful messages; although the ones sent anonymously are worse. Ísabella has also been attacked physically twice, once at the Smáralind shopping mall, which was recorded and shared on social media. After the beating, she received the following message:

“She probably began fucking bawling. If there hadn’t been people around, she probably would have been fucking dead (…) You should have been fucking dead, Ísabella.”

Sædís says that psychologists with the National Agency for Children and Family have tried to offer assistance; that they’ve applied for so-called MST intervention, which is a cross-institutional treatment geared towards aiding parents in helping their children cope. “The school has also tried to help, but she just doesn’t show up,” Sædís remarked.

Parents’ Association, Mayor Respond

After news of the bullying broke, the Parents’ Association of Hraunvallaskóli released a public statement on Facebook. The association was “shocked by revelations” in the media yesterday and has called a meeting with school administrators.

“It’s important to tackle such matters with determination and to activate protocols. Also, we, as parents, administrators, and school employees must work together toward constructive solutions that put our children’s welfare first. The Parents’ Association will try its utmost, circumstances allowing.”

Mayor of Hafnarfjörður Rósa Guðbjartsdóttir also weighed in on the matter on Facebook yesterday, encouraging a show of empathy, responsibility, and love.

“It’s been heartrending, hearing of the violence that our young girl in Hafnarfjörður has suffered. All of the world’s specialists […] will never replace us as custodians and parents. Let us talk to our children, monitor their activities more closely, explain to them the seriousness of their actions and the consequences of treating other people poorly. The simple message: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ It is so important and true.”

Chair of Hafnarfjörður City Council weighs in

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Valdimar Víðisson, Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council, stated that bullying was not endemic to Hafnarfjörður. “Bullying in primary school is, unfortunately, our current reality. We must find ways to respond.”

Valdimar says that social media is playing an increasingly larger role. “It’s a reality with which we’ve been unable to adequately deal,” Valdimar observed, adding that some of the options available are helpful, although uprooting bullying always necessitates the involvement of parents.

“It’s often the case that schools are left screaming into the void because there isn’t a lot of participation. But parents must take part, as well as society at large.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out to Red Cross Iceland (Phone No. 1717) or the Píeta Association (Phone No. 552-2218)

Around the Westfjords—in a Tractor—in Seven Days

In 2015, Grétar Gústavsson and Karl Friðriksson circumnavigated Iceland on a 1963 Massey Ferguson 35X tractor to raise funds for Vinátta (‘Friendship’), Save the Children Iceland’s anti-bullying project. However, at the time, the lifelong friends skipped over the Westfjords. Visír reports that they’ve now been challenged to complete the full journey-by-tractor by circling the peninsula in seven days.

The pair set out from beloved roadtrip rest stop Staðarskáli in Northwest Iceland on Wednesday, July 13 and are set to finish their 950-km [590 mi] voyage in Hvanneyri on Wednesday, July 20. They will be accompanied on their travels by Blær, Vinátta’s purple teddy bear mascot, and all three will be popping in to say hi at Westfjord kindergartens along the way.

‘It’s important to have dreams’

Karl and Grétar have been friends for sixty years. Their lives have taken them down different paths—Grétar is described as a master auto mechanic and farm equipment and vintage car enthusiast, while Karl is the managing director of the Icelandic Center for Future Studies—but their friendship has never faltered. The ’63 Massey Ferguson 35X tractor is symbolic for them because it’s the tractor that captured their imaginations when they were growing up in Fitjardalur, Northwest Iceland. When the first one arrived in the countryside, it was “like a Rolls Royce had driven into the farmyard.”

“Having dreams is important for people young and old,” remarked Grétar. “Sometimes dreams come true in different forms—which might even be better than the original version. The main thing is to work on your dreams and let them guide the course of your life, within reason.”

Donate to the cause

After their 2015 tractor trip, Karl and Grétar further supported Vinátta by publishing the picture book Friends of Ferguson: A Trip Around the Country Against Bullying. All proceeds went directly to the cause. This trip will also support Save the Children Iceland’s anti-bullying project. To contribute, send a text message (within Iceland) with the message “Barnaheill” to 1900 to automatically donate kr. 1,900. You can also make a donation via the page on Save the Children Iceland’s website, here.

Grétar and Karl’s itinerary is as follows:

July 13: Staðarskáli to Hólmavík

July 14: Hólmavík to Hamar

July 15: Hamar to Ögur

July 16: Ögur to Ísafjörður

July 17: Ísafjörður to Bíldudalur

July 18: Bíldudalur to Flókalundur

July 19: Flókalundur to Reykhólar/Hríshóli

July 20: Reykhólar to Hvanneyri

Sólveig Anna Re-elected Chair of Efling Union

Efling Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has been re-elected chairperson of Efling Union. Sólveig resigned as chair of Efling less than four months ago amid allegations of bullying and serious workplace issues from Efling staff. Three former staff members sued Efling earlier this week before the Reykjavík District Court, in part for the newly-elected chair’s behaviour, Vísir reports.

Efling is the second-largest workers’ union in Iceland, with members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. The union’s election concluded last night, with Sólveig Anna’s “B List” receiving just under 54% of the vote. The B List received a total of 2,047 votes, while Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir’s A List received 1,434 votes, and Guðmundur Jónatan Baldursson’s C List received 331. Eighty-eight votes were ruled invalid. A total of 3,900 Efling members voted in the election, or 15% of the union’s 25,842 eligible voters.

“It was an incredibly hard election campaign, I have to say that, and the fact that we have won despite the incredible accusations that have been levelled at us, is in my opinion absolutely amazing,” Sólveig told RÚV reporters when the results were announced last night. She expressed gratitude to voters for their trust and stated there is be a lot of work awaiting her as the union’s next chairperson.

Sólveig faces allegations of misconduct

The election campaign was plagued by reports of staff unhappiness, bullying, and misogyny under Sólveig Anna’s tenure. A report released during the campaign found that Efling spent close to ISK 130 million [$1.04 million; € 909,063] on personnel-related matters during Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s four-year tenure as chairperson. Forty out of 50 of the union’s employees (80%) resigned from their positions during the same timeframe.

On Monday, three former employees of Efling sued the union before the Reykjavík District Court for alleged breaches of the wage agreement and reprehensible conduct of Sólveig Anna and Viðar Þorsteinsson, Efling’s former managing director, who is expected to return to his position following the election results. Sólveig Anna has denied all allegations of misconduct and has stated that her focus will be to serve the union’s members.

Reports of Ongoing Staff Unhappiness, Bullying, and Misogyny in Lead-Up to Efling Election

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

The Efling labour union spent close to ISK 130 million [$1.04 million; € 909,063] on personnel-related matters during Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s four-year tenure as chairperson, RÚV reports. Forty out of 50 of the union’s employees (80%) resigned from their positions during the same timeframe.

These were among the findings summarized in a new report that the news agency prepared in collaboration with the union, at the request of board member Guðmundur Baldursson. Guðmundur is running to be the next chairperson of Efling, as is current vice-chair Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir, and Sólveig Anna, who resubmitted her candidacy for the position in late January.

See Also: Sólveig Anna Announces Candidacy for Efling Chair

According to the report, from 2018, when Sólveig Anna started as chair, to 2021, when she resigned following accusations of workplace bullying, Efling paid nearly ISK 14 million [$112,089; €97,899] in severance agreements. Around ISK 66 million [$528,422; € 461,524] was paid during departing employee’s notice periods, during which time they are not required to work. The report also shows that Efling spent ISK 48 million [$384,307; € 335,654] on long-term illness during the same timeframe.

All total, this comes to ISK 128 million [$1.02 million; € 895,077]. This figure does not account for additional costs related to services provided by psychologists and other specialists.

‘Sólveig Anna was in a position to change these things’

The day after the findings of the abovementioned report came out, an independent audit on the union’s workplace culture was made public. The audit was conducted by psychology and counselling centre Líf og sál in November and December 2021 and showed evidence that bullying and misogyny were endemic to the union’s workplace culture. The findings were based on interviews with all of the union’s employees.

Efling CEO Linda Dröfn Gunnarsdóttir said she was not surprised by the findings—the audit simply confirmed the experience that many of spoken of in the union’s workplace before.

Sólveig Anna declined to be interviewed on either report, although she received several requests from RÚV to comment. In a post on her Facebook page, however, she did comment that staffing costs in the Efling office were high and that when she started as chair, she was surprised by the perks that were afforded union office employees. She said high-wage employees had turned the union movement into a self-serving machine, with perks like free catered meals on a daily basis, costly trips abroad, and frequent and expensive gatherings during working hours.

Ólöf Helga objected to Sólveig Anna’s characterization of workplace excess in the union office saying she hadn’t observed any of the things named by the former chair and, moreover, that if Sólveig Anna had thought there was something self-serving about the way the union office was being run, she could have done something about it. “I think Sólveig Anna was in a position to change these things during the four years she was the chairperson of Efling, if she was so unhappy with them.”

Election next week will decide next chairperson and board

Efling is the second largest union in Iceland, with about 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Sólveig Anna became Efling’s chair in 2018 and led wage negotiations and strikes among City of Reykjavík employees and hotel workers calling for better wages and working conditions for low earners. More than half of Efling’s members are of foreign origin. (Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska, the current, interim chairperson is, in fact, the union’s first chair of foreign origin.)

Sólveig Anna has denied the allegations made against her, and after her resignation, union members stated, in another letter to the media, that what they had wanted was solutions–not resignations. According to RÚV, however, the news agency has sources within the union that say that some employees are worried about Sólveig Anna’s possible re-election as chair.

The Efling election, which will also decide the union’s board, will take place this coming week, from February 9 – 15.

Efling Union Staff Wanted Solutions, Not Resignations

Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

Staff at Efling Union did not intend to force the union’s chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir out of her job, according to a statement that union representatives sent to media today. Sólveig Anna resigned from her position after a staff meeting last Friday and a letter from the union’s staff that has been described as a statement of no confidence. Efling staff say the letter was not intended as such, rather as “the first step toward a solution” and that they hoped to solve issues in the workplace “in co-operation with superiors.”

See also: Culture of Bullying in Efling Union

In a Facebook post addressing her resignation, Sólveig Anna described issuing Efling staff an ultimatum last Friday: either they would submit a written statement withdrawing accusations on her account or she would resign as chairperson. Efling staff representatives passed a resolution on June 9 accusing Sólveig of serious offences, including keeping a so-called “execution list.” Following a meeting, staff “unequivocally confirmed” the contents of the original letter and send out statements to Sólveig, the union, and media outlets in Iceland.

The statement in full (journalist’s translation):

In light of the news coverage of the past few days we would like to state the following:

It was not the desire or intention of the staff meeting on Friday to make the chairperson of the union resign. Over the past few years, the union’s staff have worked wholeheartedly according to the policy set by the union’s leaders. Many of the union’s staff work here because of the battle Sólveig has fought. Staff wanted to solve the problems they brought up in co-operation with superiors.

The statement released on Friday was not put forth with the aim of declaring no confidence or to force anyone out of their job. It was intended as the first step toward a solution.

Staff members are, as usual, working for union members and with their interests at heart.

On behalf of Efling staff,

Union Representatives

Resignations Will Not Fix Culture of Bullying, Former Efling Board Member Says

More than resignations are necessary to stop the bullying and violence faced by employees of Efling Union, Anna Marjankowska, a former Efling board member, told Iceland Review. Efling’s chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir and CEO Viðar Þorsteinsson have both resigned after Efling employee representatives released a statement of no-confidence in Sólveig Anna. She has denied accusations of intimidation and bullying.

Read More: Efling Union Leaders Resign After No-Confidence Letter from Employees

Efling is Iceland’s second-largest labour union, representing around 27,000 members who work in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Marjankowska joined the board of Efling in April 2018, not long after Sólveig Anna took over as chair, and says she was forced to quit due to bullying in September 2019. “I had to stop my activity in Efling after the violence I faced representing office staff members who received unfair treatment,” she stated. “Efling and ASÍ should be an example for other workplaces and if they do not address bullying and lack of transparency then they’re giving a green light to use them as tools of ‘management’.”

Marjankowska stated that Sólveig Anna and Viðar’s resignations did not surprise her. “They are the most responsible for the culture of bullying in the office, when I refused to stay silent about illegal dismissals in the office, they bullied me directly though others pressured me to resign from the board.” More than resignations are needed to change working conditions within Efling, Marjankowska says. “What the union needs is to serve the workers, make new policies and follow them. People need to take responsibility and change their behaviour. Quitting does not hold people accountable.”

Marjankowska also expressed concern about who would lead Efling in the upcoming contract negotiations. “How will they be managed? Who will represent the rights of foreign workers?” She added that several employees of foreign origin were the targets of bullying within Efling, including Christina Milcher and Maxim Baru, external organisers of a 2019 strike, but they were silenced.

Efling Union Leaders Resign After No-Confidence Letter From Employees

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

Efling Union Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has resigned after the union’s staff sent letters of no-confidence to her, the union, and Icelandic media on Friday, Vísir reports. The Union’s CEO Viðar Þorsteinsson has told Kjarninn he will follow in her footsteps and hand in his resignation letter today. Sólveig Anna has denied accusations of bullying within Efling’s office.

Efling is Iceland’s second-largest labour union, with around 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Sólveig Anna became Efling’s chair in 2018 and led wage negotiations and strikes among City of Reykjavík employees and hotel workers calling for better wages and working conditions for low earners.

In a Facebook post announcing her resignation, Sólveig Anna writes that Efling staff representatives signed passed a resolution on June 9 that accused her of serious offences, including keeping a so-called “execution list.” Sólveig Anna denied the accusations in her post and says she referred the matter to other Efling executives, who followed up on the issue. According to Sólveig Anna, she then received a written statement that the case was closed.

The case was picked up by media when another board member requested access to the contents of the letter but was denied by Efling’s board. After media contacted Sólveig Anna last Thursday requesting comment on the matter, she issued an ultimatum to the Efling board: either a written statement would be issued that withdrew the accusations on her account or she would resign. Following a meeting, employees “unequivocally confirmed” the contents of the original letter and sent Sólveig Anna and Efling’s management a statement of no-confidence as well as sending out a statement to media. The statements assert that serious problems persist within the Efling office that need to be addressed.

One Third of Parliamentarians Report Being Victims of Bullying

Over one third of MPs who responded to a recent survey said they had been subject to bullying during their time in parliament. The survey on bullying and sexual and gender-based harassment of MPs and parliamentary staff was conducted last January and February by the University of Iceland’s Social Science Research Institute. Speaker of Alþingi Steingrímur J. Sigfússon called the results of the survey “shocking” and stated they should be taken seriously.

Bullying in Parliament

When asked whether they had been bullied at some point during their time in parliament, 80% of respondents who answered the question stated they had not. Bullying was more common among MPs than parliamentary staff: 35.7% of MPs stated they had been bullied at work or in connection to their job. The proportion was 15% among parliamentary staff and 6.3% among party staff. There was no measurable difference in proportion between genders. More than one third of those who had been subject to bullying stated they had experienced it within in the past six months.

Most Sexual Harassment Goes Unreported

Around 16% of respondents stated they had experienced sexual harassment in connection with their job, 12.5% of those within the last six months. The vast majority (87.5%) said they had been harassed by a man while 12.5% of harassers were reported to be women. Only 12.5% of those who had been sexually harassed said they had reported the incident.

In total 18.4% of respondents stated they had experienced gender-based harassment at some point during their time at parliament. As with bullying, a larger proportion of MPs had experienced gender-based harassment (31.8%) than parliamentary or party staff. Women were more likely to have experienced gender-based harassment than men (25% to 10.4%) and 74% of perpetrators were reported to be men.

Alþingi’s Speakers’ Committee decided to form an Equality Committee last January that will now discuss how to follow up on the survey’s findings.

Kids Give Bullying the Cold Shoulder

Elementary schools in Egilsstaðir are taking a novel approach to bullying by electing a group of children to be responsible for making sure that none of their peers get bored or are left out during recess and free time. RÚV reports that the Vinaliðar, or Friendship Coordinators project has already been successful at reducing incidents of playground teasing and bullying.

Students themselves elect the Friendship Coordinators—all boys and girls in the 4th to 7th grades—themselves. The coordinators lead games and encourage their peers to take part and also make sure to let teachers know if any students are being excluded or subjected to bullying.

Helgi Magnús Gunnlaugsson, a Friendship Coordinator in the 5th grade says that students elect representatives who they “…trust will let other people play, too. It’s really good for other people, so they don’t feel bad at school, so they get to do something besides just being alone.”

Studies have shown that the majority of bullying takes place on school grounds during recess and that the likeliness that students will be picked on goes up when there’s a lack of activities. Student Sigurbjörg Óskarsdóttir says that she noticed a change after the Vinaliðar program started. “I think this is a very good solution,” she said. “To have this kind of thing at recess. I’ve been here for a few years and I can totally see the change. When the Friends Coordinators project is going on, kids are usually pretty relaxed.”

Sigríður Baxter is one of the adult facilitators of the project at the Egilsstaðir elementary school. “I would say that the kids who don’t have many friends are less obvious because they can go everywhere in groups and play,” she explained. “The project helps those kids find something to do and you just don’t see bullying happening. Whether you have few friends or are really popular, everyone’s equal and these are games that everyone can take part in and usually, everyone thinks they are really fun. As such, I would say that this [has been] really positive in all schools,” she continued. “No one gets bored and no one is alone.”