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.

1,000 BSRB Members on Strike in Preschools, Primary Schools

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

BSRB has begun its strike actions today as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

As of today, some 1,000 workers are on strike, with more expected in the coming days. BSRB is Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members. Approximately two-thirds of BSRB members are women.

Read more: BSRB Strike Action to Begin Monday

These 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, chairperson of BSRB, says 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 1st, when the last collective agreement was still in effect. The negotiating committee has offered wage increases from April 1st.

Sonja says there is little to no progress in the negotiations, stating to RÚV: “The last meeting was on Friday. We have two agreements in the case, and they didn’t see fit to call for another meeting.”

She continued: “Local authorities pride themselves on equal opportunity actions and have a direct obligation to do so, as they have both job evaluations to ensure equal pay for equal work and pay equity certification.”

Affected schools have needed to cope with staffing shortages. Parents of affected schools have been informed of the shortages, with some parents of children who require special support opting to keep their children at home.

Next week, strike actions are planned in sports programmes and primary schools in Hafnarfjörður, Hveragerði, Árborg, Ölfus, and the Westman islands.

Efling and SA Negotiations Over: “No Choice But to Accept”

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Fréttablaðið reports that Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has accepted the most recent mediation proposal.

Voting closed today, March 8, for the latest off in the prolonged negotiation between Eflind trade union and SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise.

Read more: Results on New Mediating Proposal Expected Soon

With voting closed, preliminary results indicate that a majority of Efling members voted in favour of the proposal. Among other benefits, the average monthly wage of Efling employees will increase by about ISK 42,000 ($295; €280), an increase of about 11%. The contract will be retroactively valid through November of last year, and valid until January 2024.

“The result is in line with what I and my colleagues in the negotiation committee had counted on. I have been in contact with a number of members and conveyed the message to them that both I and the negotiation committee had no other choice in the situation but to agree to this mediation proposal,” Sólveig Anna stated to Fréttablaðið. She continued: “Of course, I fully understand that Efling members want this to end. It’s clear it wasn’t possible to get a better deal.”

According to Fréttablaðið, some 22.8% of Efling members took part in the vote. Of those, 84% voted to accept the latest proposal.

 

 

With Strike Vote Nearing, Efling Refuses to Hand Over Membership Records

Aðalsteinn Leifsson

In light of Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s rejection of state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson’s proposal, Efling is now being asked to hand over its list of registered members so that a vote on the proposed mediation can take place.

As of the time of writing, Efling, Iceland’s second-largest trade union, has refused to comply with the request. Now, state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson is appealing the matter to the Reykjavík District Court.

Read more: State Mediator’s Proposal Meets with Criticism

Following a historically short meeting between Efling and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), the state mediator suggested applying the terms negotiated between SGS, another major trade union federation, and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise. Sólveig Anna, in her trademark style, rejected the proposal and called into question its legality. Not all agree with this legal interpretation, including former state mediator Ásmundur Stefánsson, who stated to Morgunblaðið: “it is quite clear that the mediator has the authority to submit a mediation proposal and does not need the consent of the disputing parties to do so. That is a fact.”

Now, in an attempt to avert a strike, the state mediator seeks to submit the terms of the previous SGS agreement to Efling members.

See also: Efling Chair Demands Labour Market MP Intercede

Because of a particularly difficult negotiating climate including rising costs of living, and because Efling represents many of Iceland’s lowest-paid workers, Efling has been particularly militant in its recent negotiations.

However, some have pointed out that Efling leadership’s entrenched position may not necessarily represent the general position of its members. Of its some 20,000 members, a few hundred in the Reykjavík hotel sector would be affected by the strike.

Members of Efling employed in six Reykjavík hotels are expected to vote on their strike action tonight. If the vote goes through, the strike is expected to begin next week.

Update: Efling has since filed an administrative complaint to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour Market regarding the conduct of the state mediator. The Reykjavík District Court has given Efling until this Friday to formally decide whether they will hand over their membership registration to the state mediator.

Efling Strike a Growing Possibility

Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, director of SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Employers, has expressed his pessimism at reaching a new contract with Efling.

Regarding the last counter-offer made by Efling, Halldór refrained from commenting directly to RÚV, but stated this morning: “We will see what happens, but I am not optimistic.”

In Focus: Wage Negotiations

In light of the difficulties, intervention by the state mediator is expected in the coming days.

Halldór further stated to RÚV: “Eighty thousand contracts around the nation have been recently concluded […] SA is now done negotiating with all the major trade unions. As stated, we cannot deviate from the contractual goals and outlines that are in the collective agreements, because then SA would be betraying the trust of these people around the country.”

Regarding a strike, Halldór emphasized the potential damage it could have, saying that it would be costly for both employers, employees, and society as a whole. However, Halldór said that he was “not ruling anything out.”

On the other side of the bargaining table, Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has accused SA of showing no willingness to negotiate.

Characterizing the latest contract negotiations as a “battle,” Sólveig recently said in an interview on RÁS 2, that “Efling’s negotiating committee cannot allow itself to be treated this way. We’ve shown a willingness to negotiate so at this point no one can claim that we’ve somehow given up the fight […] We understand the responsibility we bear. Our loyalty is to our union members.”

Read more about wage negotiations here.

Efling Negotiation Postponed to Next Year

trade union iceland

A negotiation meeting between Enfling trade union and SA, originally slated for today, is being postponed to the new year, according to Vísir.

The state mediator has said that the next meeting between Efling and the Federation of Icelandic Employers (SA) is now scheduled for January 4.

See also: VR and SA Agree on Contract

With VR and SGS trade unions having recently agreed on shorter-term contracts as a compromise, Efling remains one of the only major trade unions to have not concluded its negotiations in the current round.

The two negotiating bodies last met on December 22, when Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna announced a new offer. Central to Efling’s demands are rising cost of living in Iceland, following the high rates of inflation seen this year. Efling is seen as especially aggressive in its bargaining demands, and Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, chairperson of SA, has characterized Efling’s offer as unworkable.

Vísir reports Halldór as stating that Efling’s demands, which were announced last week, could not form the basis of a new contract.

In Focus: Wage Negotiations

SGS Signs New Contract with SA, Causing Controversy

sgs trade union iceland

A new short-term contract has been reached between SGS, one of Iceland’s larger trade unions and SA, the Federation of Icelandic Employers. The agreement was reached on Saturday, December 3, between 17 of SGS’s member organisations and SA. Notably, Efling, SGS’s largest member organisation, was not a signatory to the agreement.

Rising interest rates have complicated wage negotiations between many of Iceland’s trade unions and SA, with short-term contracts seen as a compromise to cope with the immediate impact of inflation and interest rates, without locking unions and employers into longer-term contracts that may not be suited to economic conditions in the traditional three-year period.

The short-term contract will be valid from November 2022 to the end of January 2024. It includes a flat minimum raise, as well as more holidays and adjustments for inflation.

Read more: VR Leaves Negotiating Table

However, the recent SGS contract has come under heavy criticism.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, acting chairperson of the Confederation of Iceland Labour after Drífa Snædal’s resignation earlier this year, stated that the agreement was not suitable for craftsmen. He expressed his wish that the trade unions would stand together during the negotiating process, but that the inconclusive Confederation of Labour Congress earlier this year caused many fault lines to form within the Icelandic labour movement.

“As I said after the congress,” stated Kristján to RÚV, “I believed that we could take positive steps forward to strengthen the union. Just like our congressional elections are supposed to do. But it didn’t work, so this is what it’s come to. What we need to do is work on our internal issues and find a way forward.” 

Read more: Rising Interest Rates Complicate Upcoming Wage Negotiations

In light of difficult labour market conditions, the current round of wage negotiations was seen by many in the labour movement as a time for solidarity in applying pressure against SA, the employer’s union. The recent agreement between SGS and SA is seen by some as a betrayal of labour solidarity at a time when workers hold more power over their employers than usual.

Sólveig Anna, chairperson of the Efling union, has also been critical of the contract. She stated to RÚV: “We, of course, do not agree to take part in some deception where what people have already won is being simply repackaged and sold back to them.”

Efling is notable as having gone into their negotiations with very ambitious demands.

Along with Sólveig Anna, Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairperson of SGS, and Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairperson of VR, together represent some of the largest labour organisations in Iceland. The SGS contract, however, has driven a divide between these figures.

In a post on social media, Vilhjálmur stated his side of the case, saying that he was “saddened to see people he considered friends stab him in the back.” He also accused other members of the labour movement of leaking details of the contract to complicate the agreement, and of treating the recent agreement “as if a crime had been committed.”

 

 

Hope that Efling Contract Will be Accepted

trade union iceland

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Efling trade union, has expressed her optimism that wage negotiations with SA, the Federation of Icelandic Employers, may be reaching an acceptable conclusion.

The most recent round of contract negotiations has been complicated by changes in ASÍ (The Confederation of Icelandic Labour) leadership and rising interest rates in the face of high inflation.

Normally negotiated for longer terms, a shorter-term contract has been suggested as a stopgap to help what has been a difficult negotiation process.

Rising Interest Rates Complicate Wage Negotiations

Efling has now agreed to make an offer to SA that will include an ISK 56,700 annual raise (USD EUR), in addition to other cost-of-living allowances. The contract as offered will be valid until January 31, 2024.

Cost of living has been a pressing issue in the recent renegotiations, and Efling’s current offer represents a much more humble demand than some of their previous suggestions.

However, a statement by the union highlights that the current offer represents what would have been the gains in the first year of a normal three-year contract:

“In the opinion of the negotiating committee of Efling, the agreed increases need to protect the households of low- and middle-income earners from the effects of inflation and guarantee them a fair share in economic growth and the profits of the company. […] The bargaining committee of Efling believes that other unions have made a mistake by agreeing to percentage increases in negotiations with SA. There have been proposals for discussion where high-income groups are expected to benefit twice as much as low-wage earners.”

Here, Efling refers to a debate within trade unions on whether to go to the bargaining table with demands for flat wage increases, or percentage-based wage increases. Percentage-based wage increases favour higher earners, and such demands have been a cornerstone of BHM’s demands (The Icelandic Confederation of University Graduates). However, for lower wage earners, flat increases to wage generally tend to increase buying power more directly.

Efling submitted their offer to SA yesterday. Previously, they had submitted similar terms, but SA rejected them on grounds of the length of the contract. Now, Efling is hoping that the new, shorter contract will be accepted.

In a statement, Sólveig Anna said: “We will see how this shapes up. I’m not ready to say that we’ve reached the finish line. I know it’s a complicated game we’re playing […] I think it’s likely that we need to do something more, but the message to us was clear and meaningful.”

 

VR to Remain in ASÍ

vr union iceland, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson

Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairperson of VR, has stated that for the time being, VR’s position within ASÍ will remain unchanged.

VR is Iceland’s largest trade union, representing some 40,000 workers. There have however been suggestions recently that VR will leave ASÍ, or the Federation of Labour. ASÍ, founded in 1916, is the largest federation of trade unions in Iceland and has historically played an important role in labour organisation in Iceland.

However, the most recent ASÍ conference over contract negotiations has proved a turbulent one, with many major trade unions suggesting that they go their separate ways in the future.

Read More: Hopes for New ASÍ Leadership Among Contract Negotiations

The upheavals come in the wake of Drífa Snædal’s resignation earlier this year from her leadership position in ASÍ. Citing political hostility, she said that it was no longer possible to perform her duties in her resignation letter. Since her resignation, ASÍ leadership has been in turmoil, with some of Iceland’s largest trade unions considering leaving during ASÍ’s 45th conference.

Ragnar Þór also withdrew his candidacy for ASÍ leadership at the conference, citing the possibility of a break with the federation. Now, at least for the time being, it seems that VR will remain with ASÍ.

Read More: ASÍ Leadership Up in the Air as Candidates Withdraw

The announcement came today before a formal meeting with SA, Iceland’s leading employers’ union.

In a statement from Ragnar Þór, he said that all of the union’s efforts will now be directed towards the wage negotiations with SA.

Regarding the future, however, Ragnar Þór emphasised that nothing can be ruled out.

Icelandair and Cabin Crew Association Reach Agreement

Icelandair cabin crew

The five-year contract signed between Icelandair and the Icelandic Cabin Crew Association (FFÍ) is a “defensive victory,” according to FFÍ chairperson Guðlaug Líney Jóhannsdóttir. It was a relief to come to an agreement following the “very heavy and complicated” negotiations, Guðlaug told Vísir reporters.

FFÍ and Icelandair signed a contract after 3.00am this morning, closing a 16-hour meeting and months of tense negotiations. FFÍ members unanimously rejected a contract offer from Icelandair in May. The signed contract includes increased work contribution on the part of cabin crew while ensuring their job security, according to the two parties.

“The airline’s demand for streamlining was very great and we were prepared to make concessions to meet the company during these difficult times and in that way we really show through actions that flight attendants are willing to do their part,” stated Guðlaug. She says FFÍ nevertheless managed to defend job security within the profession, which Icelandair had taken out of previous offers. “We are very proud of that today.” Guðlaug did not want to discuss the details of the contract until after it is presented to FFÍ’s members tomorrow, but says news of the contract signing was well-received.

“It is really gratifying to have come to a long-term agreement with cabin crew which is an important part of the financial restructuring and part of increasing its long-term competitiveness,” stated Bogi Nils Bogason, Icelandair’s CEO. Icelandair’s largest shareholders’ hinged their approval of the company’s financial restructuring on the signing of long-term contracts with the airline’s employees.