Efling Union Workers to Vote on Strike

Strike efling hotel workers union

Janitorial staff in Efling Union will vote on strike action starting this Monday. If approved, cleaners in the Reykjavík capital area would strike on March 18. Efling representatives say the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) breached trust in ongoing collective agreement negotiations by reopening salary negotiations with other unions.

Efling is Iceland’s second-largest worker’s union. Efling’s negotiating committee did not attend a meeting at the State Mediator’s office yesterday and are not expected to attend today’s meeting between negotiating parties. Efling representatives assert that SA offered other unions with the Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) higher salary hikes than previously negotiated without consulting with Efling.

Read More: Unions Split on Wage Negotiations

If approved, the strike would involve around 1,000 workers, according to Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Efling.

Wage Negotiations Advance, Media Ban Imposed

State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson

Union and business representatives have restarted wage negotiations after a break of almost a week, Vísir reports. The parties have agreed on a basis for the negotiations, according to State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson. One union leader said IKEA’s price reductions are a good contribution to the negotiations.

Media ban imposed

The negotiations impact the working conditions of some 93% of workers on the general labour market in Iceland. After signs of progress in the negotiations appeared, Ástráður banned all parties from speaking with the media, a move often instituted when an agreement seems nigh.

Price reductions and freezes a positive contribution

Vilhjálmur Birgisson, Chairman of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland, did, however, speak to a Vísir reporter on the price reductions announced by IKEA in Iceland, calling them a positive contribution to the negotiations. The reductions could help in bringing down inflation and interest rates, “which are making Icelandic households miserable,” he stated.

Vilhjálmur pointed out that BYKO has also decided to freeze prices for six months, and encouraged other businesses to follow the two companies’ example.

Collective Agreement Negotiations Suspended

vr union iceland, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson

The labour movement cannot drive down inflation alone, the chairman of Iceland’s largest labour union told Vísir. He says wage negotiations have been put on hold due to announced municipal fee hikes as well as what he calls the government’s inaction. Inflation has measured 8% over the past 12 months in Iceland and rose by 0.1% last month.

The aim of labour and business representatives was to complete a new collective agreement by January 31, when the current short-term agreement expires. It is customary for Icelandic municipalities to announce changes to their fees annually, and these changes normally take effect on January 1. VR Union Chairman Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson says unions will have to re-examine the situation once these fee changes have been confirmed, but say that municipalities have proposed fee hikes between 5-30%.

“It’s just a grave situation,” Ragnar Þór stated. “We are going backwards. The government regarding housing issues, regarding fee hikes. We are seeing the cost of living index rise and prices rise. There is upward pressure everywhere. That all somehow works against a good result being reached in the wage negotiations. So all we can do is wait. We can’t be trying to do something alone on some boat in the middle of the ocean when no one is going to participate.”

Women of Foreign Origin Object to Union Leader’s Comments

Efling Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

The Women of Multicultural Ethnicity Network in Iceland (W.O.M.E.N.), released a statement yesterday objecting to comments made by Efling Union Chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir in an interview. Sólveig Anna stated that the demand for increased access to Icelandic language courses was coming from intellectual elites, and would not be a priority for Efling in the coming wage negotiations this fall. W.O.M.E.N. maintains that the demand for better language education comes from workers themselves.

Nearly 160 collective agreements expire this autumn in Iceland, representing around 100,000 workers. Efling is the second-largest union in the country, representing some 27,000 workers – 53% of whom are of foreign origin. In a column published by Vísir last week, Professor Emeritus of Icelandic Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson called on unions to demand Icelandic courses for workers of foreign origin during working hours, and for employers to bear the cost of the initiative.

Read more: Nothing to Speak of – The Shortcomings of Icelandic Education Policy

Language education not high on list of demands

In response to Eiríkur’s column, Sólveig Anna stated that increasing access to Icelandic education for workers of foreign origin would not be high up on the list of demands the union would make in the upcoming negotiations. The Efling Union Chair stated that the focus of the negotiations would be securing a living wage and ensuring affordable housing for low-income workers.

“Of course, it’s just extremely strange that those who belong to some intellectual elite are going to put the responsibility on the trade unions of working class and low-wage workers who obviously have bigger and more important things to think about right now than protecting Iceland’s national language,” Sólveig Anna told RÚV.

Women of foreign origin say Icelandic education of vital importance

Immediately after the interview was published, W.O.M.E.N. released a statement objecting to Sólveig Anna’s comments. “We strongly object to the idea that the demand for Icelandic courses being provided by employees [sic] comes from educational elites,” the statement reads. “Reality is it comes in most cases directly from us. We certainly hope that the very unions fighting for equal wages and equal rights in the job market should understand the value of allowing us equal access to the Icelandic language in addition to the flexibility and support from our employers in learning it.”

The statement also points to a survey conducted by W.O.M.E.N. in 2021, which showed that an overwhelming number of respondents requested support for Icelandic language tuition, “as they felt it would have direct consequences for economic and societal growth. If not addressed, it would continue to have repercussions for women of foreign origin who experience inequality and a lack of access to upward mobility in the job market and in society.”

The statement is available in full on W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland’s website. Read more on the lack of access to Icelandic language education here.

Extra Meetings to Prepare for Upcoming Wage Negotiations

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir

The National Economic Council has held extra meetings in order to prepare for this autumn’s collective agreement negotiations, RÚV reports. Nearly 160 collective agreements expire this fall, and continued inflation, now at 9.9%, is expected to complicate talks. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir expressed concern about the economic situation.

“The economic situation here in Iceland is complicated, as elsewhere in Europe,” Katrín stated. “I am concerned about the economic situation, not least because we are emerging from the recession caused by the global pandemic and have entered another situation closely connected to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Wages have increased, but so have housing costs

Housing costs are a key factor in rising inflation, and the Prime Minister says it is important to address inflation by ensuring additional housing availability. The state and municipal authorities signed an agreement earlier this month to build an additional 35,000 apartments over the next ten years. Katrín stated that addressing housing availability was only one of several measures that were required.

While inflation has impacted purchasing power in Iceland in recent months, wage increases over the past year have mitigated its effect. Purchasing power decreased by 0.9% between June 2021 and June 2022 in Iceland according to data from Landsbankinn bank. It has not been lower since December 2020. Purchasing power is expected to continue decreasing over the coming months, as inflation is expected to continue rising and no collective agreements account for wage increases before October.

Collective agreements set to expire

Over 100,000 workers’ collective agreements expire in October or November. The National Economic Council (Þjóðhagsráð), which includes government ministers as well as representatives from unions, municipal governments, the Central Bank, and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), has been holding additional meetings to prepare for the upcoming negotiations. “I think it is very important to continue this conversation,” the Prime Minister stated.

“An Invisible Group of Foreigners Who Clean Up After Us”

cleaning equipment

Cleaning staff in Iceland face too much strain and their working conditions are unacceptable, according to Director of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (Starfsgreinasamband, or SGS) Flosi Eiríksson. Cleaning is increasingly outsourced by businesses, which puts cleaning workers at risk of isolation, Flosi says. SGS is preparing for collective agreement negotiations later this year, and plans to emphasise improving working conditions for cleaners.

Flosi says that the last collective agreement included a review of the working speed and environment of cleaners, but that the review was never carried out. SGS contacted the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (Vinnueftirlitið), who discovered that cleaners face excessive strain at work. “They were expected to work much too fast, that led to musculoskeletal problems, sick leave, and so on and so forth.”

While in the past, cleaners were employed by the businesses and institutions where they worked, now they tend to be employed by large cleaning companies that are hired by businesses. Before this shift occurred, many people worked part-time as cleaners, after work or school. Now many are working as cleaners full time. The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health confirmed that cleaners’ working conditions are equivalent to walking 10 kilometres per hour, each hour they work, which Flosi called “unacceptable.”

“Invisible group of foreigners”

With cleaning services increasingly outsourced, there is a greater risk that cleaners will be isolated at their workplace. “You are specially marked, you don’t have coffee with other employees, you probably don’t get the staff Christmas present, you don’t go to the staff party, and so on,” Flosi stated. “Sometimes we don’t see those people. Here in the capital area, they’re probably 80-90% people of foreign origin. Maybe we’re, in some sense, creating a tiny invisible group of foreigners who clean up after us.” Flosi also pointed out that by outsourcing cleaning services, government institutions are no longer taking part in collective agreement negotiations for cleaning employees.

Nurses Prepare to Strike

Nurses Hospital Landsspítalinn við Hringbraut

The overwhelming majority of Icelandic nurses have voted in favor of a strike, RÚV reports. Per a recent vote of the Icelandic Nursing Association, 85.5% approved a strike; 13.3% opposed it. A total of 2,143 nurses participated in voting, a participation rate of 82.2%.

As a result of the vote, the union has decided that nurses will go on an indefinite strike starting at 8.00am on Monday, June 22. The strike will continue until the union has reached a contract agreement with the Icelandic government.

The strike will extend to nurses working throughout Iceland. “We’re talking about the whole country,” remarked Nursing Association chair Guðbjörg Pálsdóttir. “All healthcare centres and those workplaces that employ nurses working under this contract.”

See Also: Pay Cut Goes Into Effect for Hospital Nurses

Negotiations between the nursing union and the government resumed after nurses rejected the collective bargaining agreement that was presented at the end of April. A key issue is base salaries; nurses demand that starting wages within the profession be raised.

Icelandic nurses have been without a contract for almost 15 months.

Preschool Staff, Street Cleaners Vote On Strike

preschool children

A strike vote among Efling Union members working for the City of Reykjavík begins today. Around 1,800 employees of the City of Reykjavík work under Efling’s collective agreements, RÚV reports. Over 1,000 of them work at preschools, 710 in the caretaking division of the city’s Welfare Department, and around 140 in various jobs within its Environmental and Planning Department. Preschool teachers and street cleaners would be among those who strike.

Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir told RÚV that 10 months of negotiation with the City have not gone well. Sólveig criticised the City’s negotiators for illegally disclosing the content of negotiations to the press, thus violating the confidentiality of the meetings. She described the atmosphere of meetings as undignified and disrespectful toward Efling and its members.

“I mean who in this city, or just in this country, can imagine this society without for example the preschools being open? And who works in these preschools, who keeps them running? It’s my union members, the people of Efling, the people of this city,” Sólveig stated.

Union members have from noon today until noon on Sunday to vote on whether to strike. If approved, strike actions would begin on February 4.

Higher wages, not fewer hours

One of Efling’s proposals for the new contract is shortening the working week for preschool employees. Not everyone agrees, however, that a shorter workweek is the best way to address working conditions in preschools. In a group letter published by Kjarninn, 15 women argue that decreasing hours at preschools would increase women’s childcare burden, affecting their participation in the labour market. The action that’s needed, they assert, is to raise the low wages in the profession.