What’s the Status of the Efling Negotiations?

efling strikes iceland

Update: As of March 8, negotiations between Efling and SA have been concluded. Read more about the contract here.

Strikes, short-lasted and contentious negotiations, and now a pending lockout against the Efling trade union have been in the news lately, leaving many who don’t follow Icelandic wage negotiations wondering: what, exactly, is happening on the Icelandic labour market?

Current status

All workers’ strikes have been postponed while Efling members vote on a mediating proposal put forth by the state mediator on March 1. Voting closes at 10:00 AM on March 8. The lockout proposed by the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) has been postponed until March 9, meaning it could still be instituted if Efling members reject the mediating proposal.

Leadup to negotiations

In the fall of 2022, around one-third of all labour contracts in Iceland expired and needed to be renegotiated. Amidst upsets in the leadership of the Confederation of Icelandic Labour (ASÍ) and a particularly difficult combination of high inflation and interest rates, the round of contract negotiations was particularly fraught. Given the recent increases in cost of living, it was also an especially important round to ensure quality of life for workers. Most major trade unions were able to reach compromises with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), mostly in the form of shorter-term contracts. These short-term contracts will be renegotiated with SA when conditions are hopefully less difficult.

Playing hardball

One major holdout has been Efling Union, led by chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir. Efling is the second-largest workers’ union in Iceland and represents some of the lowest-paid workers in the country. Efling has leveraged the difficult negotiating climate to agitate for more substantial wage increases.

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson, whose task was to bring the negotiations between SA and Efling to a productive end, attempted to force a vote within Efling by submitting similar conditions approved by Efling’s peer unions directly to the union membership, circumventing what many see as an overtly militant leadership. Legal wrangling delayed the request and ultimately led to the appointment of a new, temporary, state mediator: Ástráður Haraldsson.

Workers’ strikes

Since early February, Efling members have approved several strike actions, mostly affecting hotels in the Reykjavík capital area. February 20 saw a significant escalation in the tensions between SA and Efling, when Efling’s suspended strikes resumed at midnight. In addition to the original 700 striking hotel workers, other labourers (most significantly among them, truck drivers) have resumed their strikes. As of the time of writing, some 2,000 Efling members are on strike. Efling has, however, postponed a strike among additional workers (in hotels, security services, and janitorial services) that was set to begin on February 28.

Confederation of Enterprise approves lockout

On February 22, SA announced that its members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of a lockout of Efling workers set to begin on March 2. CEO of SA Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson called it a “last resort” to force the conclusion of a collective agreement with Efling Union. Efling Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir accused SA of using the lockout to force the government to step into the conflict.

The pending lockout would affect all members of Efling, around 21,000 in total, neither allowing them to show up to work, receive a wage, or accrue benefits and leave.

Unclear whether union would support locked-out workers

The pending lockout could leave Efling members in a tight spot as the union’s leaders appear to disagree on whether to make payouts to affected workers. While Efling’s regulations do not prevent the union from making payouts to members affected by a lockout, a notice on Efling’s website states “the union does not hold responsibility for a lockout and the labour dispute fund cannot sustain such payments.”

Efling’s labour dispute fund allocates approximately ISK 25,000 [$174, €164] per worker per day and has been used to pay the 2,000 or so members who were striking. In the case of a lockout, however, Efling would need to support ten times that number, and its funds would reportedly run out in a week.

Some have interpreted SA’s lockout as an attempt to intimate Efling into accepting their demands, and if not, to quickly burn through Efling’s labour dispute fund and force the union back to the negotiating table.

Impact felt at the pump and in hotels

Strikes among Efling workers, now postponed, impacted Icelandic business and society in various ways. A strike among oil truck drivers was felt at the pump in late February, when petrol supplies gradually began to deplete. Several hotels were temporarily closed due to workers strikes.’

Lockout postponed

In light of a meeting scheduled for February 27 between Efling and SA, SA has postponed the potential lockout pending further developments. Originally scheduled to begin Thursday, March 2, the potential lockout will now begin March 6, if no agreement is reached.

At the same time, Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, chairperson of ASÍ, has stated that the planned lockout is potentially illegal on grounds of formal defects in the original notice, in addition to the problem of jurisdiction. According to statements from Kristján Þórður, SA members from outside the capital voted on the proposed measure, rendering it illegitimate. Because Efling trade union exclusively represents workers in the capital region, only capital area members of SA should have been allowed to vote on the matter.

On March 6, the Labour Court ruled in SA’s favour, deeming the lockout legal.

Vote on new proposal approved, strikes and lockouts postponed

Temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, March 1. 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 lockouts would be postponed while voting took place.

Voting began on Friday, March 3, at noon, and will conclude on Wednesday, March 8. The lockout and all strikes have been postponed in the meantime.

This is a developing story and will be regularly updated. For more context on the labour situation in Iceland, listen to Deep North Episode 8: Wage Negotiations.

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.

Labour Talks: Yesterday’s Long Meeting Inconclusive, Mediator Reticent

Ástráður, Halldór Benjamín

At 9 AM yesterday morning, the negotiating committees of the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) attended their first meetings with the new, temporarily-appointed state mediator, Ástráður Haraldsson.

Just before the meeting began, Ástráður told reporters that, so long as there was some good to be had, he was prepared to meet late into the evening. And meet he did; it was not until 10 PM that same day that the negotiating parties decided to call it a day. The disputing parties are set to meet again at 10 AM this morning.

Below you will find a brief recap, in broad strokes, of yesterday’s events.

The meeting commences

Prior to stepping into the meeting with SA and the temporarily-appointed state mediator, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, told RÚV that she was happy with the new mediator: “We are very happy to have gotten him involved in this dispute for we feel he is willing to listen to our point of view.”

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director General of SA, was not quite as upbeat during an intermission at noon. Speaking to RÚV, Halldór stated that it was “too early to tell how the negotiations between SA and Efling were progressing.” He clarified that the mediator had been meeting separately with the two disputing parties, hoping to find some middle ground.

Asked if he was hopeful, Halldór Benjamín replied with a simple “no.” “I realise our responsibility to society and the enormous financial damage that will be done to the economy in the coming days.”

At the time, Halldór Benjamín expected the meeting to last into the afternoon.

Solidarity meeting at Harpa

While Halldór Benjamín spoke to the media at noon, a large group of people had gathered at the Northern Lights Hall (Norðurljósarsalur) at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall. Efling was hosting a solidarity meeting; a strike, involving, on the one hand, 500 employees of the hotel chains Berjaya and Edition, and, on the other hand, about 70 employees at Samskip, Skeljungur, and Olíudreifing, had officially come into effect at noon. Efling members were there to confirm their participation in the strike and register for payments from the strike fund, which amounts to ISK 25,000 ($173 / €162) per day.

Gas stations busy

At 2.30 PM, Vísir reported that the oil company N1 had closed the delivery of petrol and diesel at several stations in the Southwest corner of Iceland. The outlet reported that gas stations in the capital area were expected to run dry over the coming 24 hours; earlier that day and yesterday, some customers had arrived to stations with large containers to stock up on petrol. The fire brigade later issued a warning, advising against the hoarding of petrol.

Halldór leaves the meeting – on account of the flu

At 5 PM, Halldór Benjamín walked out of his meeting with Efling and the state mediator. But not because talks had stranded. He was feeling under the weather. He told a reporter from RÚV he felt “a pain in his neck, was a bit restless, and was advised to go home.”

The reported, Arnar Björnsson, inquired if his indisposedness derived from being made to swallow any nauseating suggestions. Halldór laughed.

The issue at hand

As noted by RÚV, the gap separating the two disputing parties is not, on the face of it, wide. SA had refused to waver from their offer of a collective agreement similar to the one signed by other unions of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS). The agreement included a general rate increase of ISK 32-52,000 ($222-381 / €207-356) per month. SA had repeatedly stated that it was “out of the question” to offer Efling a different and better contract than other unions.

Before the last real negotiation meeting on January 10, Efling submitted an offer of rate increases in the range of ISK 40-59,000 ($277-409 / €259-382) per month. Additionalliy, the union demanded an ISK 15,000 ($104 / €97) increase in the so-called cost-of-living compensation.

Sólveig Anna stated that the offer still stood and, prior to the meeting yesterday morning, noted that the gap between the parties was not that wide. “It’s not that far apart in terms of money. It’s about [SA’s] pride and whether they are going to let it work for the interests of Efling’s 20,000 members,” she told RÚV.

Proper talks could begin

At 5 PM, Ástráður Haraldsson told reporters that, in his opinion, there was a possibility of engaging in “real collective bargaining negotiations” in the dispute between Efling and SA. He had spent the entire day with the negotiation committees of SA and Efling, meeting each of them separately, although he did not consider “proper talks” having actually begun.

“We’ve been trying to discover the nature of such talks and whether it would be possible to engage in such talks,” Ástráður told RÚV.

Talks renewed at 8 PM

At 6 PM – during a break in the meeting – Eyjólfur Árni Rafnsson, Chair of SA, stepped in for his indisposed colleague and offered an interview to reporters. He told the media that he considered it “overly optimistic” to expect that collective agreements would be signed on that day. Nevertheless, he admitted, it was a “positive sign” whenever people sat down to talk.

At that point, the meeting, which had been going on intermittently since 9 AM, was the longest in the wage dispute to date. Eyjólfur observed that that was “a good thing.”

The meeting resumed at 8 PM, with Ástráður Haraldsson hinting to reporters that the meeting “might run long.” When the meeting began again, Eyjólfur Árni stated: “We’re going to find out if we can see eye to eye and whether we can enter into real negotiations to put this to and end.” Eyjólfur Árni was unwilling to say what exactly SA had proposed, other than that those things that were being discussed with the union were things that SA “would have liked to have discussed in January.”

Meetings finally come to a close

After a long day of meetings, the final sessions finally concluded between 10-11 PM yesterday. Another meeting has been called at 10 AM today.

“We are still in this opening phase and have not managed to enter into actual wage negotiations,” Ástráður Haraldsson told RÚV following the meeting.

As noted by RÚV, although the Efling strikes had only lasted twelve hours, people had already begun stocking up on medicine. The Director of Lyfja, a retail pharmacy, told RÚV yesterday that there was no need for people to stock up on medicines. “There is several months’ supply of medicines in the country, at any given time. Medicines are also, in some cases, life-saving products, and we have received exemptions to carry out this extremely important role of health services, i.e. the distribution of medicines,” Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir told RÚV.

Efling Strikes: Gas Stations Could Run Dry as Early as Thursday

driving in reykjavík

The CEO of Skeljungur says that gas stations could run out of gas as early as Thursday if oil truck drivers begin strikes on Wednesday, Vísir reports. The Director General of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise has called the Efling union’s strikes “pointless.”

Strikes around the corner

There is still no progress in the wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA); strikes of oil truck drivers, Beraya hotel employees, and Edition hotel employees are looming. If no settlement is reached, strikes will begin this Wednesday, and if they do – oil companies’ provisions are expected to run dry quickly.

Þórður Guðjónsson, CEO of Skeljungur – Shell’s official reseller in Iceland – told Vísir yesterday that he was concerned about the situation. Efling union members have been preparing for the strike since they voted on the matter earlier this month.

“This is a matter of concern because Iceland is dependent on oil, and it is quite clear that this will hit us pretty hard if it happens. Since it was announced that a strike was planned beginning on midday, Wednesday, February 16, we began filling all of our supply tanks,” Þórður remarked.

It doesn’t take many days to empty a gas station, Þórður noted – even high-capacity stations like Orkan on Vesturlandsvegur (where the interview was conducted): “It will probably be empty on day two after the strike, so we’re talking late evening on Thursday, this station could start to run dry.”

The effects of the strikes could prove multifaceted: freight transport and tourism, for example, would suffer from the gas shortage, while various essential services would be exempted from the strike. “The police, ambulances, the fire brigade, our search-and-rescue teams, those who handle anti-icing, snow ploughs, the hospitals, back-up stations, and god knows what; these services are among those that would be exempt,” Þórður Guðjónsson observed.

The strikes are “pointless”

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Chair of the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, was interviewed on the radio programme Sprengisandur yesterday morning. He claimed that Efling’s strikes were pointless.

“There is no purpose to Efling’s current strikes. There are no negotiation meetings scheduled. The state mediator called a meeting last week, but Efling refused to attend. This is absolutely central to this discussion. Because the purpose and nature of strikes are to force the contracting party to conclude a collective agreement – but there are no meetings in this dispute. The only thing that the parties are waiting for is the Court of Appeal’s ruling, and when that ruling is made, the progress of the labour dispute will be determined,” Halldór Benjmaín stated.

If the Court of Appeal confirms the ruling of the District Court of Reykjvík, the Efling union would be forced to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) and then vote on the state mediator’s proposal; their agreement would be the equivalent of a collective agreement.

“There are only two options that can arise. On the one hand, the members of Efling accept the mediation proposal, and the mediation proposal will then be the equivalent of a collective bargaining agreement, effective retroactively from November 1, 2022. Then, in fact, this cycle of collective bargaining in the Icelandic labour market would almost be over,” Halldór Benjamín concluded.

State Mediator’s Proposal Meets With Criticism from Efling and SA

SA / Efling Union

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson presented his mediation proposal in the wage dispute between Efling and SA at a press conference yesterday. The proposal met with criticism from both SA and the Efling Union. The state mediator believes that he is well within his legal rights.

A controversial step, setting a questionable precedent

Yesterday, State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson presented a special mediating proposal (i.e. miðlunartillaga) to resolve the dispute between the Efling Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). Negotiations between the two parties have devolved into a sort of Gordian knot, with the last meeting between Efling and SA lasting only a minute. The proposal means that members of the Efling union will have to vote on the same contract previously agreed upon by other unions.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of Efling, told RÚV yesterday that she believed the state mediator had broken the law with his proposal: he had not consulted with Efling. Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director of SA, struck a similar note, arguing that it was “the right of the disputing parties” to bring the case to a conclusion.

State Mediator defends his proposal

Following the response from Efling and SA, Aðalsteinn sent out a press release yesterday in which he rejected any claims about the illegality of the proposal. A mediating proposal was one of the resources available to the state mediator to try to ensure peace in the labour market.

“Given the state of the dispute between SA and Efling, it was my assessment, the office’s assessment, that it was inevitable to try this remedy.”

Aðalsteinn admitted that the labour legislation imposes the duty on the state mediator to consult with the parties to a wage dispute before submitting such a proposal: this applies to the content of the proposal and the procedure for voting.

“And that’s why I called representatives of both parties to a meeting with me today for this purpose. I discussed it with them before the proposal was made public. This obligation to consult the parties, however, does not imply that they have the right to intervene or veto the proposal.”

As noted by RÚV, Aðalsteinn denies that the way in which the proposal was presented was illegal in any way. When asked if the parties to a dispute should be familiar with the content of the legislation, he replied that the law was very clear as regards the authorisation of a mediating proposal. “It is also very clear in the labour legislation that when a mediation proposal has been submitted, a vote must take place.”

The proposal a “monstrosity”

Sólveig Anna went on to describe the proposal as a “monstrosity” (i.e. óskapnaður) that failed to mediate anything. Efling’s point of view had not been taken into account: the state mediator was simply imposing SA’s offer on the Efling Union.

Aðalsteinn replied that this was far from the case. He was not proposing an agreement from SA but rather one that the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS) had negotiated with SA.

“After very difficult and demanding wage negotiations – where an agreement was struck. This agreement has since been approved by an overwhelming majority of votes in all of the eighteen unions within SGS. It should also be noted that this agreement includes the highest proportional increases that have been settled in this round of wage negotiations, within the general labour market, over the past weeks and months.”

Efling yet to submit its membership list

At the time of writing, the Efling union had not submitted its membership list to the state mediator; the deadline was 8 PM yesterday. As noted by RÚV, Efling is thereby shirking its statutory duty, given that the office of the state mediator has the right to receive the membership list.

Elísabet S. Ólafsdóttir, Chief of Staff at the State Mediator’ office, told RÚV yesterday that the office would have to consider its next steps: “At this stage, we can send Efling another notice. If the notice proves ineffective, it may eventually be necessary to obtain a ruling from the district court to force delivery.”

The proposal will be put to a vote by the members of Efling and voting will begin at 12 noon on Saturday and continue until 5 PM on Tuesday.

This article will be updated

No Agreement Between SA and Efling After Minute-Long Meeting

Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise

In a final push to avert a strike, the state mediator called a meeting between representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling Union; the meeting, which is reportedly the shortest ever to be held at the state mediator’s facilities, was unsuccessful, RÚV reports.

Chair of SA critical of Sólveig’s “intransigence”

As Efling members began to vote on strike action, the state mediator invited Efling’s negotiating committee back to the negotiating table alongside the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) today. The meeting did not go well, lasting “all of about a minute,” according to RÚV.

In an interview following the meeting, Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Chair of SA, told RÚV that Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling Union, was preventing agreements from being reached, and by calling a strike – forfeiting the possibility of retroactive wage agreements.

The Deep North Podcast: Wage Negotiations

“With the intransigence that she displayed today, Sólveig Anna is preventing union members from contractual wage improvements,” Halldór remarked.

“Disgusting and unacceptable”

Sólveig Anna responded bluntly to SA’s criticism. “Do people really think it’s normal, acceptable, that while you can criticise the dress code and behaviour of Efling members, you can’t pay those same people, who produce the profits, which find their way into other people’s pockets, decent wages?”

Sólveig Anna iterated her conviction that Efling members were prepared to go on strike in order to push for decent wages.

“It is a characteristic of civilised societies that people can provide for themselves with the work they do. In the case of many Efling members, this is simply not the case. I find it disgusting. Unacceptable. And we are fighting for this to be changed,” Sólveig Anna told RÚV.