Opposition to Free School Lunches

school children

As a precondition to newly signed collective bargaining agreements, primary school lunches will be free. This will save a family with two children approximately ISK 40,000 [$292, €268] per month.

The initiative is to be funded 75% by the Treasury and 25% by municipalities, who operate the primary schools. However, 26 representatives of the centre-right Independence Party in municipalities across Iceland wrote an article Thursday, criticising the head of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities for agreeing to the initiative, which they oppose.

School lunches key to the agreement

Vilhjálmur Birgisson, president of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS), told Vísir today that there would be no long-term collective bargaining agreement without the free school lunches. He said the initiative would help families a lot.

He added that the Independence Party representatives were using the labour unions in political chess and that a new agreement was yet to be made with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities. “I believe 99% of municipalities will keep their promise,” he said. “If any individual municipalities won’t, then we can’t make a new agreement with them in February of next year.”

Authorities Dispute Over Asylum Seekers in Iceland

asylum seeker deportations

Asylum seekers in Iceland continue to be caught in the middle of a dispute between the Icelandic state and municipalities on who should provide services to those whose applications have been rejected. Yesterday, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Labour Market announced a temporary agreement with the Icelandic Red Cross to provide emergency assistance to the group and legal changes that shift responsibility for rejected asylum seekers to municipalities. Municipal leaders have called the Ministry’s decision “one-sided” and “disappointing.”

In Focus: Asylum Seeker Evictions

New legislation that took effect in July strips asylum seekers in Iceland of housing and services 30 days after their application has received a final rejection. The legislation was harshly criticised by human rights associations in Iceland, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International. By August, some 53 asylum seekers had been stripped of services, some ending up on the street. Asylum seekers are not stripped of services if they agree to deportation, but many in this position are unable to travel, for example due to lacking a travel document or being stateless.

State and municipalities in deadlock

While the new legislation was still being reviewed in Parliament, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson stated that asylum seekers whose services and housing were withdrawn by the state would be able to seek services from municipalities according to the Social Services Act. In such cases, the municipalities can then send a bill to the state for the cost of providing the services.

Since the legislation took effect, however, municipalities in Iceland have argued that the Social Services Act does not apply to asylum seekers and that it is the state’s responsibility to provide services to the newly homeless group. Many detractors have also pointed out that requiring municipalities to provide services would cost taxpayers more than the system previously in place, with the state still footing the bill to a large extent.

Ministry makes changes to rules on reimbursements

In addition to the agreement with the Red Cross, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has also made changes to the rules on reimbursements to municipalities for services provided to asylum seekers. The changes clarify which services are eligible for reimbursement from the state treasury. According to the government notice, municipalities can receive state reimbursement for providing “accommodation and food in accordance with what is generally customary in facilities for the homeless in Iceland.”

Municipalities protest

The Icelandic Association of Local Authorities has issued a statement criticising the Ministry’s actions. “In the opinion of the Association of Local Authorities, this unilateral action by the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour is a huge disappointment, as it is taken with the Minister’s full knowledge of the municipalities’ complete opposition to this measure,” the statement reads in part. In its last board meeting, the association reiterated its position that municipalities were neither permitted nor obliged to provide financial assistance to foreign nationals who have been stripped of state services following the rejection of their application for international protection.

Municipalities Insist State is Responsible for Asylum Seekers

Reykjavík City Hall ráðhús

It is up to state authorities to find a solution for the group of asylum seekers who have been stripped of housing and all social services in Iceland, municipal authorities insist. On July 1, new legislation took effect in Iceland that strips asylum seekers of housing and all social services 30 days after their applications have been rejected. Before the legislation took effect, Iceland’s Social Affairs Minister asserted that these individuals could seek services from municipalities, but municipal authorities now assert they are neither permitted nor required by law to provide services to the group.

Representatives from the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities met with Iceland’s Justice Minister and Social Affairs Minister last Friday to discuss the situation of asylum seekers who have been evicted from state housing due to the new legislation. Over 10 individuals from this group have been living on the streets, some for up to three weeks. Since the legislation took effect, 53 asylum seekers have been stripped of services and housing.

At last week’s meeting, municipal representatives underlined to state authorities that they believe it is the state’s responsibility to provide services to the group, and not that of municipalities. According to a notice from the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities, both state and municipal representatives “agreed that it is now urgent to find a solution to the people’s problem.”

A group of activists protested the government’s actions towards asylum seekers at the opening of Culture Night festival last Saturday.

Parents to Association of Local Authorities: “Negotiate Now”

Wage negotiations

Parents affected by the ongoing BSRB strikes organised a protest at the headquarters of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) this morning, RÚV reports. No progress has been made in the talks between BSRB and SÍS.

Talks remain at a standstill

Widespread strikes in 29 municipalities by members of BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – are still in full swing. The strikes extend to staff in preschools, swimming pools, sports facilities, service centres, town offices, utility houses, and harbours; and include approximately 2,500 BSRB members and affect the activities of about 70 preschools.

According to Elísabet Ólafsdóttir, assistant state mediator, the situation is being regularly assessed. Elísabet told RÚV that there was “no reason to call the disputing parties into a meeting” since it was considered unlikely to be successful. Inga Rún Ólafsdóttir, Chair of SÍS’ negotiation committee, agreed with Elísabet’s assessment: there was still a significant gap between the negotiation parties’ demands.

Chair of BSRB, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir – who also concurred with the aforementioned view – told RÚV that there had been several reports of strike violations and that BSRB is investigating the validity of these claims; BSRB is currently reviewing whether it will take the municipality Snæfellsbær in West Iceland to Labour Court for strike violations.

“Negotiate – it’s not complicated”

Given this state of affairs between BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS), frustrated parents arrived at the premises of SÍS at 10 am this morning to protest, RÚV reports.

Astrid Jóhanna Kristjánsdóttir, Erla Þórdís Traustadóttir, Esther María Ragnarsdóttir, Birgitta Ragnarsdóttir, and Indiana Rós Ægisdóttir organised the protest, which was attended by approximately 100 people. The organisers are requesting that the conflicting parties negotiate immediately, given that the situation in preschools is “unacceptable.”

“These are some of our most important workers. The towns would be nothing without them. If the towns are nothing without them, we can’t go to work,” Esther told RÚV. When asked if preschool services had been curtailed, Esther replied in the affirmative, explaining that staff had only been allowed to attend for half a day. Her message to SÍS was simple: “Negotiate. It’s not complicated. These are some of our most important workers. This is completely disrespectful. Negotiate.”

Talks Remain at a Standstill Following Today’s Meeting

wage negotiations

The meeting of the negotiation committees of BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) at the state mediator’s offices concluded at noon without an agreement. No new meeting has been called, RÚV reports.

2,500 BSRB members on strike

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 (SÍS).

BSRB’s strike action has gradually ramped up with 2,500 members going on indefinite strike yesterday. As noted in a press release on BSRB’s website, the current strike affects about 150 workplaces in 29 municipalities and includes “staff in kindergartens, swimming pools, sports facilities, service centres, town offices, utility houses, and harbours.”

As noted by RÚV, both parties had stood firm before today’s meeting; BSRB is demanding a lump sum payment of ISK 128,000 ($904 / €847) to correct the disparity in the salaries of its members compared to other workers who are employed to do the same job. The Chair of the SÍS negotiating committee stated that the demand was unfounded.

In an interview with RÚV prior to the meeting, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated that the federation would not budge from its lump-sum demand: “The message is very clear. We do not have the authority to finalise collective agreements unless there is a guaranteed lump sum payment of ISK 128,000 in order to correct the discrepancy in the wages of our workers compared to people who are employed to do the same jobs … it is simply unacceptable for people to do the same jobs and be paid less. They are doing exactly the same tasks every day, and our people are tired of this inequality.”

Today’s negotiations, held at the offices of the state mediator, began at 10 AM and concluded at just before noon without an agreement being reached.

Preschool Staff on Strike in 11 Municipalities

school children

Staff at 60 preschools in 11 municipalities went on strike today as negotiations between BSRB, the Federation of Public Worker Unions in Iceland and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) remain at a standstill. Other municipal staff across the country, including swimming pool and harbour staff, are already striking. Negotiators had an informal meeting two days ago but called it a step backwards.

“It was an informal meeting, so it wasn’t a traditional negotiation meeting,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, told RÚV. “But the result of the meeting was that we went backwards rather than forwards, so this dispute is still just in a deadlock.”

Today’s strikes affect preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, Árborg, the Westman Islands, Skagafjörður, Borgarbyggð, Stykkishólmur, Grundarfjörður, and Snæfellsbær. On Wednesday, harbour staff in Ölfus and the Westman Islands will strike.

BRSB has demanded that the collective agreement be retroactive from the beginning of this year, but the SÍS negotiating committee has resisted agreeing to such an arrangement.

Strikes Likely to Force Closure of Swimming Pools This Weekend

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

Strikes by members of the BSRB union who are employed by swimming pools will most likely force the closure of public pools in West, North, and East Iceland over the Whit Sunday weekend. Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told Mbl.is today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS), although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

Strikes begin

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). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Further strike action was approved last Friday, May 19, which means that this weekend, the number of people participating in BSRB strikes will be around 1,700. Eighteen municipalities will be affected by the strikes.

As noted in an announcement from BSRB this morning, the staff of swimming pools and sports centres in West, North, and East Iceland are among those who will begin strikes this weekend. This will most likely mean that numerous public pools within affected municipalities will be forced to close their doors to visitors over the Whit Sunday weekend.

“If agreements are not reached before June 5, swimming pools and sports centres will be added in even more municipalities, including the capital area, until agreements are reached,” the announcement further notes.

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told Mbl.is today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities; although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

The staff of the following swimming pools and sports facilities will stop working this weekend:

Akureyri
Akureyri swimming pool
Glerárskóli swimming pool (Glerárskóli Sports Centre)
The sports centre in Hrísey (swimming pool and gym)

Dalvíkurbyggð
Dalvík sports centre (swimming pool)

Fjallabyggð
The swimming pool in Ólafsfjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Ólafsfjörður
The swimming pool in Siglufjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Siglufjörður

Skagafjörður
The swimming pool in Varmahlíð and the Varmahlíð sports centre
Sauðárkrókur swimming pool and the Sauðárkrókur sports centre
The swimming pool in Hofsós

Fjarðabyggð
Stefánslaug in Neskaupstaður

Borgarbyggð
Swimming pool and sports centre in Borgarnes

Snæfellsbær
Snæfellsbær swimming pool and sports centre

Vesturbyggð
Brattahlíð, swimming pool in Patreksfjörður