New Collective Agreements Could Be Signed Today

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Tens of thousands of workers in Iceland may have new collective agreements this afternoon, RÚV reports. Unions within the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Iceland Enterprise (SA) are set to sign an agreement at 5:00 PM this afternoon. There are, however, still a few wrinkles to be ironed out regarding the participation of municipalities.

Union leaders expressed optimism yesterday that a deal would be made today. The Chairman of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), however, stated this morning that the union would not sign the agreement unless all municipalities in Iceland agreed to subsidise school meals. “Simply because this particular measure is a huge measure in the path we’re taking. It is an ISK 5 billion [$36.6 million, €33.6 million] measure, and the state is contributing ISK 4 billion to subsidise school meals, and the local authorities are supposed to contribute ISK 1 billion,” stated Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of SGS.

SGS represents some 44,000 workers in Iceland. Efling Union, which is also a part of the agreement set to be signed today, represents around 27,000 workers. VR, Iceland’s largest union by membership, is not a party to the collective agreement set to be signed this afternoon but continues negotiations with SA today.

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.

Vote on New Mediating Proposal Closing, Results Expected Soon

A vote on the temporarily-appointed state mediator’s new proposal will end at 10 AM today. The results of the vote are expected to be in shortly thereafter.

Results expected shortly after voting closes

On March 1, temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference to announce that representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling union had agreed to vote on his new mediating proposal. While voting took place, all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts were to be postponed.

Voting began at noon, Friday, March 3, and it is set to conclude at 10 AM this morning.

As previously noted, the new wage agreement between Efling and SA, as provided by the proposal, would be fully retroactive from November 1, 2022, and salary increases would be tantamount to those stipulated in agreements signed by other unions. The contract would, however, differ in two respect from other similar contracts: a new job title for general hotel staff (i.e. almennt starfsfólk gistihúsa) would be created and drivers of the oil companies and Samskip would receive additional hazard pay.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, has stated that she would vote in favour of the proposal.

The website of the Office of the State Mediator notes that the wage rates in the main collective agreement will increase between ISK 35,000 ($246 / €233) and ISK 52,258 ($368 / €349) ISK per month, the average increase being about ISK 42,000 ($295 / €280). The relative increase in wage rates is between 9.5% and 13%, with the average increase being over 11%.

This article will be updated.

Vote on New Proposal Approved, Strikes and Lockout Postponed

State mediator

Temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference at 10 AM this morning. He told reporters that representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling union had approved of his new mediating proposal and that all ongoing and impending strikes and the proposed lockout would be postponed while voting took place.

Voting to begin on Friday

“Good morning, I’ve called this meeting because I’ve decided to submit a new mediating proposal in the dispute between SA and the Efling union,” temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson told reporters at a press conference that began at 10 AM this morning.

“This mediating proposal will replace the old one, which was originally submitted on January 26. The involved parties have agreed to put the proposal to a vote, which will be conducted on the website of the State Mediator’s Office. Voting will begin on Friday, March 3, at noon, and it will conclude on Wednesday, March 8. We believe that the results will be in shortly thereafter. The parties have also agreed to postpone all ongoing and impending strikes and the lockout beginning at noon today and until the results are in.”

Ástráður added that the new proposal was very similar to the original one; the agreement would be retroactive and salary increases would be the same as stipulated in agreements signed by other unions. “There is one item that is different. There is an alteration to the employment title for general workers in guesthouses and their respective salary bracket, but otherwise, it’s the same agreement as signed in the SGS agreement.”

Ástráður also noted that the parties would have six days to vote on the proposal to ensure that as many people as possible could vote.

Things evolve over time

When asked to pinpoint what exactly had led to this resolution, Ástráður responded thusly:

“It’s always the case, in such disputes, that life goes on, and things change, and we’ve had strikes going on for nine or ten days straight, which affects these negotiations. But the main thing is that the parties managed to conclude certain matters that aren’t a part of the proposal itself – and which have nothing to do with my role in these negotiations – but that matter in their communications and their future relationship. They managed to wrap that up yesterday. So they’ve agreed to vote on the proposal. But we’ll have to wait for the results.”

Ástráður clarified the above point by pointing to certain side agreements, aside from the main wage negotiations, that aren’t addressed directly in the proposal itself, but that were crucial to the proposal being approved. When asked if the negotiating committees would encourage members to approve of the proposal, Ástráður was unwilling to say.

Displeased with the retroactive clause of the agreement

Vísir also spoke to Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director of SA, who stated that he would need to place the proposal within its proper context. The dispute had been locked in a Gordian knot and that the parties were worn out after long negotiations. The strikes and impending lockout also had an effect.

“We expect that the disputing parties will encourage members to approve of the proposal,” Halldór stated, emphasising that the wage agreement stipulated in the new proposal was, in its material substance, the same as the original proposal. He also stated that he was not pleased with the fact that the agreements would be retroactive, as he did not want to reward unions for going on strike.

“Everyone had to yield certain demands … the magic often occurs in the grey areas,” Halldór observed. He concluded by saying that he was greatly displeased with the nature of the two parties’ discourse over the past weeks.

This article was updated at 10:46 AM

Clock Winding Down on New Mediating Proposal

The clock is winding down for temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson; with a 20,000-worker lockout set to begin on Monday, Ástráður would need to submit a new mediating proposal sooner than later – if there is to be a vote on the proposal prior to the lockout. As noted by Vísir, Ástráður also occupies a narrower position following a ruling by the Court of Appeal, given that he has to be certain that both parties to the dispute would agree to a vote on his proposal.

No substantive result

After temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called for a “ceasefire” prior to a meeting between SA and Efling on Monday night, SA decided to heed the mediator’s suggestion by postponing its planned 20,000-worker lockout (originally slated to begin on March 1). Likewise, Efling signalled its willingness to cooperate by postponing all further strike action.

When the meeting concluded, in the early hours of February 28, however, Ástráður Haraldsson announced that no substantive result had been reached; he told reporters that he had hoped to convince the parties to vote on a new mediating proposal.

Such an agreement was the basis for the submission of said proposal given that the Court of Appeal had ruled in February that Efling was not required to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) to the Office of the State Mediator with regard to the original mediating proposal, submitted on January 26. In light of this ruling, Ástráður Haraldsson could hardly submit a new proposal without the disputing parties assuring him that it would be put to a vote.

Media blackout

Prior to the meeting on Monday, Ástráður Haraldsson instructed members of each party’s negotiating committee not to speak to the media during the negotiations. He also closed his meetings to the media.

As noted by Vísir, Stefán Ólafsson – an expert in the labour market and standard-of-living research at Efling, and one of the company’s negotiators – shook the weak foundations of the negotiations shortly before noon yesterday by contravening the mediator’s instructions and publishing a post on Facebook.

He wrote that the meeting last night was “put on hold” while SA’s negotiating committee mused on whether to allow the submission of a new proposal: “At the end of the day, it’s food for thought for me: how long people who earn millions of króna a month can mull over an ISK one-thousand salary increase for workers – to no avail,” Stefán wrote.

Ástráður Haraldsson was displeased with Stefán’s statements; first of all, he had asked the negotiating parties to refrain from public comment in light of the sensitive state of the negotiations.

“Secondly, according to the law on trade unions and labour disputes, it is expressly forbidden to publicly report … on statements made in negotiating meetings without the authorisation of the other party, that is, without the consent of both parties. Thirdly, which is perhaps worst of all,  Stefán’s account was simply not true,” Ástráður stated in an interview on Bylgjan yesterday afternoon.

Watching from the sidelines

As noted by Vísir, if no agreement is reached – or no consensus regarding the new proposal is achieved, so that it’s submitted for a vote by both parties over the next 24 hours – it is likely that the government will begin to get worried. However, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir that it was “not yet time” for the government to intervene.

“My assessment of the situation is that the appointed mediator has determinedly worked his way through the issues. He’s really left no stone unturned and continued to explore all options at the meeting [Monday]. We’ll have to wait and see whether he thinks that it’s timely to reconvene the negotiating parties. While people are still sitting down at the negotiating table, I remain hopeful that a successful resolution to the dispute can be achieved,” Katrín stated after a government meeting today.

Katrín added that the government would continue to monitor the situation closely.

“What we’ve been doing, as I’ve previously stated, is assessing the impact of the ongoing strikes. That assessment changes from day to day. After the meeting was called [on Monday], of course, SA’s lockout was postponed. It changes our assessment of the situation so that we do not consider it timely to intervene in the dispute at this point in time,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir yesterday.

Not Paying Workers During Lockout is Sólveig’s Decision, Efling Vice-Chair Says

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

There are no regulations that prevent Efling Union from paying workers during the lockout set to begin on March 2, according to the union’s Vice-Chair Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska. The statement contrasts with previous assertions from the union’s Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, who has stated that Efling would not make payouts to workers in the case of a lockout. In a post on her Facebook page, Agnieszka stated not providing financial support to workers affected by the lockout would be Sólveig’s personal decision, and criticised Sólveig for being “willing to have her low-wage members suffer.”

The Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) has approved a lockout of some 20,000 workers set to begin on March 2, the latest escalation in a fraught collective agreement negotiation between SA and Efling. During the lockout, Efling workers would not be permitted to show up to their employment. As such, they would not receive wages, accrue leave, or receive pension payments. Efling is currently paying striking members from its labour dispute fund, but a notice from the union stated that it would not make payments in the case of a lockout. According to the notice, “the union does not hold responsibility for a lockout and the labour dispute fund cannot sustain such payments.”

“The members of Efling have the right to know that the rules of the union aren’t stopping their chairman from paying from the fund in the case of the [lockout],” Agnieszka wrote on Facebook. “Its just her decision.” Agnieszka added that paying workers affected by the lockout was the “right thing” to do.

Four Hotels Shuttered as Wage Negotiations Drag On

Strike efling hotel workers union

As the ongoing wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) drags on, managers decided to shutter four hotels yesterday. Two additional hotels will be closed tomorrow – and the seventh on Saturday. The Chair of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG) hopes that the wage dispute will be resolved sooner rather than later.

Heartbreaking having to close again

“It’s an incredible situation in which to find oneself. We have just reopened the hotels after a two-year closure due to the pandemic. The fact that this is happening to us again is heartbreaking,” Kristófer Oliversson, Chair of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG), stated in an interview with Morgunblaðið.

At the end of January, Efling union members working at seven hotels in the capital area voted in favour of a strike beginning on February 7. After two weeks of strikes, the first four of seven hotels targeted by the first round of strikes were shuttered yesterday. These include Hotel Reykjavík Saga and Hotel Reykjavík Grand, which offer, in total, over 400 rooms.

“It’s admirable that the managers of these hotels have held out for such a long time. They’re trying to keep the other three hotels open,” Kristófer stated. Companies within the hotel and hospitality industry are worried about the consequences of the ongoing Efling strikes and further strikes that are impending.

People will be on the streets

According to an announcement from the Icelandic Tourist Board, a decision has been made to close two additional hotels tomorrow – and a third on Saturday. These are Berjaya Reykjavik Natura Hotel, Hilton Reykjavík Nordica, and Berjaya Reykjavik Marina Hotel. The three hotels offer over 600 rooms. Yesterday morning, an emergency phone line was opened for hotel guests who may require assistance or need help with rebookings.

“People will be out on the streets as the week progresses. That is the situation with which the Icelandic Tourist Board is trying to deal,” Kristófer stated.

He also suggested the establishment of a mass-aid centre on the rationale that it was difficult to stop the flow of visitors. He does not see how to transport a large group of people from one place to another.

“The big booking engines don’t provide us with the necessary information so that we can contact guests directly. They keep this information to themselves so as to sell additional services to the guests. This means that it’s unclear whether visitors can be notified of the closures.”

Barring any unforeseen developments, all Efling members who work in hotels and guesthouses will be on strike at noon on Tuesday. Kristófer told Morgunblaðið that there are currently no plans to close hotels that will be affected by these latest strike actions.

“Of course, we hope that the wage dispute will be resolved,” Kristófer Oliversson concluded.

Labour Minister to Disputing Parties: “You Must Try Harder”

The labour legislation needs to be revised in light of the current wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), government ministers stated yesterday. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, told RÚV that it was the responsibility of the disputing parties to resolve their conflict.

Government intervention an “emergency measure”

At a meeting yesterday, government ministers discussed the impact of strikes and lockouts in the ongoing wage dispute between the Efling union and SA. The ministers noted that the societal impact of a drawn-out dispute would be far-reaching – but that government intervention was an emergency measure. “We see it as our duty to be aware of what may lie ahead. I think it’s obvious to everyone that in the event of widespread strikes, not to mention lockouts, then that would have huge consequences for society as a whole,” Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson told RÚV.

Various memoranda on the impact of the strikes were submitted during the cabinet meeting, which ran longer than expected. Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Infrastructure, remarked that the government was not going to intervene at this time. “It’s obvious that the conflicting parties have reached an impasse, perhaps they’re expecting (an intervention), but in our opinion, resolving the dispute is their responsibility. We are, however, observing these developments closely, and if the dispute begins to have a serious and widespread impact on society in the coming days – we’re talking shortly, not even weeks – then, of course, we must be prepared.

“They must try harder”

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV that the government had already presented measures to facilitate collective bargaining. “It’s clear that we will not bring these measures to bear in this dispute; it’s in their hands. It’s their duty to do everything they can to reach an agreement. But we are, of course, following the situation very closely. A lot can happen over the coming days.”

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, stated that the wide-ranging effects of further strikes and lockouts on society were being closely monitored by the government. “This is a serious situation that has arisen and strong words have been spoken on both sides, which I don’t think is particularly helpful when it comes to resolving this dispute. I emphasise that it’s the responsibility of the disputing parties to sit down and try their best to reach an agreement.”

When asked if he believed an agreement could be reached, Guðmundur Ingi responded thusly: “I would say that it’s the duty of the negotiating parties to try to get together; they must try harder.”

Confederation of Enterprise to Vote on Lockout Against Efling

efling strike iceland

The board of SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, has agreed to present a vote to its member companies to initiate a lockout against the members of the Efling trade union.

According to SA chairperson Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, SA members will be presented with a vote today. Stating that negotiations with Efling have gone as far as they can, the potential lockout would represent an escalation of the so-far unproductive negotiations between the two labour organisations. If the lockout goes through, it would potentially affect the entire Efling membership, some 20,000 workers. Efling is one of the largest trade unions in Iceland and a lockout against the union would have significant effects on the entire economy.

Read More: No Postponement of Strikes

Halldór was careful to note in a statement that the tactic has been used sparingly by SA throughout the decades, but that the uncooperative tactics in use by Efling have forced his hand. He has been quoted as referring to the vote as an “emergency measure.”

“In short, SA can initiate a lockout, just like Efling can threaten a strike,” Halldór clarified. “When the vote is over, and let’s assume it’s approved, we will hand over a document to the leadership of Efling notifying them of the lockout. The state mediator will also receive a copy. Just like in the case of strikes, it has seven days to be implemented. We believe that we have reached such a critical moment in this dispute that we can no longer allow Efling to paralyze society as a whole with a hand-picked group of employees.”

Halldór likewise stated that the vote would concern all members of Efling, but that a potential lockout will be implemented with specific regard to the conditions SA members find most suitable.

Read More: Efling Suspends Strikes

The vote comes after threats by Efling chairperson to resume strikes, which had been postponed, on Sunday.

Locked-out workers would not be allowed to show up to their usual employment. As such, they would not receive wages, accrue leave, or receive pension payments.

State Mediator to Drop Enforcement Request Against Efling

efling union hotel strike

State Mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson has withdrawn his enforcement request to the sheriff’s office, following a meeting with Efling legal team. Vísir reports.

In the wake of failed negotiations between Efling trade union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), the state mediator has invoked his ability to the put the terms of the suggested deal directly to Efling members, bypassing their negotiating team. To do so, member registries have been requested from Efling, who have countered that the registry does not exist.

Read More: Majority Vote in Favour of Strike Action

Sólveig, chairperson of Efling trade union, stated recently to Vísir: “We have no obligation to prepare data that does not exist. This electoral register does not exist. […] In the District Court, an expedited hearing was requested by those who submitted this procedural request and then the subpoena. The request to expedite was approved, it took about four days in total. I believe that Efling’s request for an expedited hearing in our appeal case will be accepted. If it not, it is in my opinion extremely surprising and a sign of the inequality in our system. […] There should be a final result in this case, and until it is before us, it is Efling’s position that the electoral roll should not be prepared and delivered.”

Read More: Union Strike Ruled Legal

However, the state mediator has now withdrawn his request to enforce the order.

On February 6, the Reykjavík District Court ruled that Efling is indeed obliged to hand over the data in question. Efling chairperson Sóveig had previously stated her intention to appeal the matter, but Efling has now agreed to obey the order if the district court ruling is confirmed at the national level.

The Efling strike began Tuesday, February 7, and affects some seven Reykjavík hotels.