Efling Chair Demands Labour Market MP Intercede, Withdraw State Mediator’s Proposal  

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

Efling Chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir is urging Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, to intercede in the labour union’s ongoing dispute with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and withdraw the mediation proposal that state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson issued at the end of last week. Sólveig Anna also wants Aðalsteinn to withdraw from the negotiation process entirely. RÚV reports.

See Also: State Mediator’s Proposal Meets with Criticism from Efling and SA

The proposal, which was issued in the wake of an “unprecedented” and extremely contentious round of negotiations, essentially consists of the same terms that SA has agreed upon with other unions.

Under normal circumstances, this proposal would be put to a vote among Efling’s members. Sólveig Anna has repeatedly described it as bad for workers, however, and as such has withheld the union’s electoral roll as a way of stalling the process and preventing a vote from taking place.

Aðalsteinn demanded that the electoral roll be handed over and referred the matter to the Reykjavík District Court, which will review the case on Monday morning.

In the meantime, Efling members have voted on whether the employees of Íslandshótel will strike. The results of this vote will be announced on Monday evening.

‘The situation the state mediator has created is intolerable’

In a post on her Facebook page on Saturday afternoon, Sólveig Anna said “the situation the state mediator has created with his conduct is intolerable,” and “will not be borne.” She then published the letter she sent to Guðmundur Ingi that same day, in which she pointed out that it is the Labour Minister who is responsible for appointing the state mediator and demanded a meeting to discuss the Minister’s intercession in the dispute prior to both the court hearing and Efling’s strike announcement.

“I emphasize to you that this is a grave and precedential matter that revolves around the legitimacy of institutions of entities within the labour market, the fundamental rights of workers, and the trust that working people will have in the official framework of labour market issues in the future,” Sólveig Anna wrote in her letter.

“I ask you not to underestimate the weight that the Efling labour union will put on the response to this issue and, depending on the circumstances, will direct at those institutions in the public sector that are responsible for it. I therefore appeal to you in your responsibility as Minister of the Labour Market to comply with my request for a meeting without delay.”

As of Sunday morning, Sólveig Anna had not received a response from the Minister but told reporters that she wants Guðmundur Ingi to push for the state mediator’s proposal to be withdrawn.

Asked if she also wants the Minister to remove Aðalsteinn Leifsson from his role as state mediator, Sólveig Anna replied that Efling’s leadership has already expressed its lack of confidence in Aðalsteinn as a mediator.

“I think it’s obvious at this stage, given how he’s acted toward us, that he can’t be a party to the dispute we’re now in.”

Deep North Episode 8: Wage Negotiations

hotel workers strike Reykjavík

With the dust from this fall’s leadership turmoil still unsettled, one-third of wage contracts need to be re-negotiated between their trade union and SA, the employers’ union. High interest rates and inflation have made this a particularly tricky negotiation round, and we briefly outline why it matters.

Note that wage negotiations are still ongoing. Read the latest coverage 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

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.

400 Small Businesses Form New Association

downtown Reykjavík

Around 400 small and medium-sized businesses have registered in a new association that was formed yesterday, RÚV reports. The association, called Atvinnufjelag, will take part in contract negotiations separately from the Confederation of Iceland Enterprise (SA) in order to give a voice to smaller businessses.

“Over 99% of associations in Iceland are small and medium-size businesses and independent workers,” stated Arna Þorsteinsdóttir, one of the founders of the new association and co-owner of ad agency Sahara. The new association’s preparatory board says smaller businesses need a bigger seat at the table. “What’s not working with SA is the voting system. The bigger a business is, the more votes you have, the more weight you have. So it’s more likely that bigger businesses call the shots.”

The premise of the new association is that each company will have one vote, regardless of its size, setting up a majority rule. Arna says smaller companies have felt they do not have enough of a voice within SA. “Especially during COVID, certain response measures were requested for small and medium-size businesses that did not get support.”

The association’s founding statement asserts that Iceland’s taxation system is unequal and should take into account the size and scope of businesses’ operations. The association states it will negotiate contracts on behalf of its members and do so independently from SA. Arna hopes, however, “that there will be an open discussion and talks. We recognise that we are sort of gatecrashers here but we just want to get to the table.”

Air Traffic Controllers to Strike

The Icelandic Air Traffic Controller Association (FÍF) has called for a strike after talks around an ongoing dispute over working hours failed to reach an agreement. The work stoppage will take place next week, on Tuesday, August 31. Vísir was first to report.

The action comes in the wake of a stalled meeting between FÍF and Isavia, which handles the operation of Keflavik International Airport and manages air traffic in the Icelandic control area. Representatives for both parties took part in a marathon meeting on Monday from 1:00 – 11:30 pm. Unfortunately, no agreement was reached.

FÍF chairman Arnar Hjálmsson confirmed that the work stoppage will be short and temporary. It will apply for all union members who work for Isavia. Arnar expressed disappointment at having to resort to a strike action but said there was no other option. The overwhelming majority of FÍF members support striking, he said, and the union must accede to their wishes.

Earlier this month, on August 9, FÍF members approved six independent work stoppages as part of their contract dispute. Five of these have been postponed; the window to avoid the final work stoppage closes at 5:00 am on Tuesday morning.

Arnar told reporters that it is now in the hands of the state mediator to call another meeting between the union and Isavia. No further meetings have yet been scheduled.

Rio Tinto Strike Postponed One Week

Friday’s planned strike of 400 employees at the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter at Straumavík in the capital area has been postponed for a week.

A very concise announcement on the website of the Hlíf labour union confirmed this on Thursday evening, saying, “This is being done to give the contract committee more time to put together a new wage agreement.”

“If the contract isn’t obtained within that time period, strike actions will begin on October 23, in accordance with previous announcements.”

Strike at Rio Tinto Begins Tomorrow

ISAL aluminium smelter

A planned strike of 400 employees of the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter in Straumsvík, not far from the capital, will go ahead as planned tomorrow, Friday, October 16, RÚV reports. The chairman of the Hlífar labour union says that negotiations have not been productive and employees are tired of waiting of a promised cost of living increase.

Five of the six labour unions that represent Rio Tinto employees voted to strike last week. If nothing changes, the first strike action will take place tomorrow, followed by an indefinite general strike to begin on December 1. According to Reinhold Richter, a union representative, the striking workers are demanding the same wage hikes as are outlined in the “standard of living contract” signed by unions and the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) in 2019.

Read More: Rio Tinto Considers Suspending Production at Iceland Aluminum Smelter

Rio Tinto’s employees have been without a contract since the beginning of July, although they were promised a wage increase in March, with the proviso that in order for the raise to go into effect, the company would first need to finalize new electricity agreements with Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland. The smelter failed to come to an agreement with Landsvirkjun, their contract expired, and the dispute was referred to a state mediator. This means that the promise raise been on hold.

Rio Tinto is one of the largest metal and mining corporations in the world. Its executives have long expressed dissatisfaction with its electricity prices and even raised the idea of permanently closing the smelter. They say that that high power costs have contributed to the company’s losses and are preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company.

Teachers’ Work Not Confined to the Classroom, Union Says

Primary school teachers are seeking increased flexibility as part of their new wage contract, RÚV reports. Wage negotiations are underway, but teachers have been without a contract for over a year and are growing impatient.

Bargaining committees for primary school teachers and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities are now meeting on a regular basis with the goal of signing a new contract by October 1. The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement ended in July of last year, at which point they agreed to an extension of the negotiation period. Þorgerður Laufey Diðriksdóttir, chair of the Association of Primary School Teachers, says that teachers are demanding a pay raise in accordance with the Living Wage Agreement. She also says that it’s time for municipalities to recognize that the work of a teacher is not confined to the classroom.

“It’s become apparent during COVID that we’re doing a job that can be both onsite and remote. It’s not just preparation that might take place offsite, but as we’ve clearly seen, teaching may also be done remotely.”

Þorgerður says that for years, the teachers’ contract has been based on the idea that they should be doing most of their work while at school. “This hasn’t led to better education—on the contrary, it’s caused grief and discomfort for a lot of people, having experienced this inflexibility.”

As such, Þorgerður says that an increased flexibility, that is to say, a broader understanding of what teachers do—and where they do it—is a requirement as they continue with negotiations.

Transport Workers’ Federations Condemn Icelandair’s ‘Union-Busting Practices’

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Both the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the Nordic Transport Workers’ Federation (NTF) have issued statements condemning “Icelandair’s actions during the negotiations with the cabin crew union FFÍ.” The statements come after a contentious, months-long negotiation process which came to a standstill when the airline announced in mid-July that it would lay off all of its flight attendants and seek a contract with “another party within the Icelandic labour market.” FFÍ requested to meet with Icelandair the following day, however, and by early morning on July 19, a new contract between the two parties had been hammered out.

See Also: Cabin Crew Approves Contract with Icelandair

In their July 31 statement, ETF Pilots roundly condemned the Icelandair’s “union-busting practices to hinder their legitimate resistance against a new contract with significantly worse working conditions,” calling the airline’s actions an “unprecedented attack on the legitimate rights of workers and their union” and a “flagrant breach of safety obligations.” The ETF Pilots also condemned the action of Icelandair pilots, who they say “made themselves available to undermine the position of the cabin crew and thereby put the professional image of pilots as well as safety standards at risk.”

The NTF, which represents 41 transport unions through the Nordic countries, then issued their own statement of solidarity this week saying that it had seen similar actions taken by another (unnamed) airline in the past “and still years after, the work community suffers from the scars left by the events.”

Both federations emphasized that “no category of workers should ever be used to undermine the position of other workers,” while the NTF echoed the sentiments of FFÍ chairperson Guðlaug Líney Jóhannsdóttir, saying that trust will need to be rebuilt between Icelandair and its cabin crew staff.

“We…encourage the company to use resources for re-healing the working environment and nurturing trust,” concluded the NTF statement. “The world is slowly opening after the lockdowns. It will take some time before we get to the new normal, but the world will recover. We must use this time for finding new, more sustainable and fair ways of working. Devoted workers are the most valuable resource of an airline. They will be needed, now more than ever. Treat them well.”

95,000 ticket refunds since the start of the pandemic

Icelandair has suffered large losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting a loss of ISK 12.3 billion ($19.8 million/€77.6 million) in the second quarter of 2020. The airline has continued to operate minimal flights to and from Iceland, primarily to Boston, London, and Stockholm, with the help of government funding and has announced its intention to make a public stock offering in August as part of the financial restructuring of the company.

Significant booking cancellations have further exacerbated the airline’s situation. RÚV reports that Icelandair has had to refund 95,000 bookings since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and airline’s woes are far from over: PR representative Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir says the airline is currently facing 35,000 outstanding refund or credit requests.