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 Would Not Pay Workers in Potential Lockout

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

The Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) is currently voting on a lockout that would affect 20,000 Efling employees. 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. Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has stated that Efling would not provide financial support to members in the case of a lockout, which differs from the policies of other large unions in Iceland.

Read More: SA to Vote on Lockout Against Efling

The lockout vote is the latest in a series of escalating moves in the fraught collective agreement negotiations between SA and Efling. The vote ends on Wednesday at 4:00 PM and if the lockout is approved by SA member companies, it will begin on March 2 at noon. While workers would not be collecting wages during a lockout, neither would they receive financial support from Efling, a notice from the union states, as “the union does not hold responsibility for a lockout and the labour dispute fund cannot sustain such payments.”

Other unions pay members in case of lockout

Supreme Court Barrister Lára V. Júlíusdóttir told mbl.is that it has been around 35 years since lockouts have been used as a significant tactic in Icelandic wage negotiations. Lára says that Efling’s decision to not pay out to members affected by a lockout would possibly be disputed. She adds that other large Icelandic unions, including VR and RSÍ, emphasise paying from the labour dispute fund both in the case of strikes (initiated by unions) and lockouts (initiated by employers).

Efing is Iceland’s second-largest union by membership, and a lockout would significantly impact most sectors of the country’s economy. CEO of SA Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson called the lockout an “absolute emergency measure” intended to put pressure on Efling. The union has called the lockout a “one-sided, coercive measure” intended to “force workers to accept a worse outcome in contract negotiations than otherwise.”

Efling approves further strike

In the meantime, Efling members have voted in favour of further strike action. The strikes would begin on February 28 at noon and would affect some 2,000 workers in security companies, cleaning companies, and hotels.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnason, president of The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) stated he would have preferred to see Efling and SA spending more energy on negotiations than strikes and lockouts, but pointed out that the two measures are not comparable in their impact on society.

“Efling’s strikes are intended to affect the position of the contracting parties and put pressure on the businesses. However, they don’t have the same crippling effect on society that lockouts could potentially have. I think SA is on a bit of thin ice if they’re going to resort to these actions.”

Drífa Snædal, President of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, Steps Down

drífa snædal labour union iceland

Drífa Snædal, president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, has announced today that she is stepping down from her post.

Citing the formation of certain blocs within the confederation and difficult relations with elected representatives, Drífa stated that it was impossible for her to continue working as president. Upcoming salary negotiations and the annual conference in October were identified as reasons to step down sooner, rather than later.

The announcement can be found below in a Facebook post from the Icelandic Confederation of Labour.

In her statement, Drífa said that as president, she found herself in situations she had never expected. Specifically, she pointed out how Efling’s mass layoffs earlier this year forced her to publicly criticize Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir for her decision. According to Drífa, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour had been working against such mass layoffs for some time, and that Sólveig’s actions put her in a very difficult position. Given the internal divisions, she said, it was impossible to move forward.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, chairperson of the Icelandic Electrical Industry Association and vice-president of the Icelandic Labour Confederation, is slated to take over Drífa’s now-vacant position until the coming conference in October.

In a statement to Morgunblaðið, Kristján said that the situation was still very fresh, and that he had not decided whether he would run for the presidency at the conference in October. Having just received the news this morning, he said that although Drífa would be missed, it was naturally his task to step in and fill her role until more permanent decisions could be made.

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour consists of 46 trade unions and represents service workers, seamen, construction workers, office and retail workers, and several other industries in Iceland. It is the largest union confederation in Iceland, representing 2/3 of Icelandic organized labour, or around 133,000 workers. Approximately 80% of Icelandic labour is organized in trade unions, the largest of which are VR, with c. 40,000 members, and Efling, with c. 30,000 members.

Concluding her announcement, Drífa called the labour movement the “most remarkable human rights movements in the world.” She continued: “However, I can no longer perform my duties as president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour. It’s best to end things here. And to remove any doubt, this is not part of some larger scheme, I am simply leaving this platform with no intention of returning. I thank my supporters from the bottom of my heart and ask for their understanding in this decision.”

Upwards of 140% Difference on Food Prices Throughout Country

Food prices vary as much as 140% depending on where in Iceland you’re doing your grocery shopping. This per a recent price survey conducted by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ÁSI).

ÁSI compared prices on 103 products sold at fifteen small grocers in rural areas. Fifty-six of the 103 surveyed products had a price difference of 60 – 140% between the highest and lowest listed prices on specific items. Twelve products had a difference of over 140%. This is especially concerning because many of the shops surveyed are located in isolated locations and are the only viable option for people living in the area.

As one example of a significant price difference, a package of standard, sliced sandwich cheese (brauðóstur) had an ISK 1,373 [$10.07; €8.52] or 106% difference between the highest and lowest surveyed price per kilo. The price of a box of Cheerios varied ISK 1,183 [$8.68; €7.34], or 103%. There was a 100% difference, or ISK 1,597 [$11.72; €9.91], between the highest and lowest surveyed per-kilo prices of veal. Butter varied 50% in listed prices, different kinds of bread 60 – 70%, coffee pads 80%, and clothes detergent 156%.

Looking at broader categories, there was between 80 – 100% difference between the highest and lowest prices on meat and fish, around 100% difference on canned and dry goods, and 80 – 100% difference on prices of snacks, sodas, and other beverages. The largest price difference was generally found among fresh vegetables, which averaged a difference of 200 – 300%.

Product selection also varied significantly from shop to shop. The largest selection (94 out of 103 products) was found at Skagafirðingabúð in Skagafjörður, North Iceland; the smallest (24 of 103 products) at Versluninn Ásbyrgi in Northeast Iceland.

Small, independent grocers fighting to stay in the black

For a merchant’s perspective on the price variances, RÚV spoke to Jón Stefán Ingólfsson who has run Jónasbúð in Grenivík, North Iceland, for 25 years. He agreed that 140% was a bit much in terms of a price difference, but said there could be a number of reasons for this. He said the survey included small, privately owned shops in small towns, as well as shops that are part of larger grocery chains. The chain stores can buy their goods at wholesale prices, he explained, which means they can offer lower prices to their customers than the owners of private grocers.

Jón Stefán says he thinks it unlikely that the shops charging higher prices are attempting to gouge their customers, as most small businesses are constantly fighting to stay in the black.

See ÁSI’s full table of price comparison results and shops surveyed (in Icelandic) here.

First May Day Without Celebrations in 97 Years

hotel workers strike Reykjavík

May 1, or International Workers’ Day, has been observed with protest marches and workers’ demonstrations in Iceland since May 1, 1923; it has been a public holiday in the country since 1972. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and prohibitions on public gatherings of over 20 people, however, in-person May Day celebrations were called off in Iceland this year for the first time in nearly a century, Vísir reports.

As such, labour organizers, unions, and workers took their demands online, with a virtual rally organized by The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of University Graduates, and the Federation of State and Municipal Employees. The rally included performances by a broad range of Icelandic musicians, including Bubbi Morthens, Auður, and the Labour Brass Band, and was broadcast from Harpa concert hall on Friday night. People were also encouraged to make May Day-related signs and post them on social media.

Union Leader Urges Solidarity

In her May Day address, ÁSI President Drífa Snædal emphasized that workers and organizers should not lose sight of either their immediate demands—unemployment benefits and basic security for all workers during the current economic and employment crisis—nor the “big demands,” namely, “equality and justice and a just society.” She also urged solidarity now more than ever.

“There’s always a danger in circumstances such as these that people find themselves in such dire straits that they start undercutting one another and taking worse jobs under worse terms,” said Drífa. “Which is why it’s of the utmost importance that we abide by the framework that we’ve set out for ourselves here in Iceland and stick to our collective bargaining agreements and terms.”

Wage Disputes and Contract Negotiations Ongoing

May Day also threw into relief several high-profile wage disputes and contract negotiations that have been ongoing in Iceland of late. On Wednesday, the Icelandic Nurses Association voted to reject the contract that was signed by their union on April 10. Icelandic nurses have been without a contract for over a year; 46% of union members supported the new contract, while 53% voted against it.

Icelandic police have also been without a contract for over a year. Unable to demonstrate and make their demands publicly on May Day, they opted to take part in a digital demonstration. “One year without a contract,” declares the video, reminding viewers that 19 years ago, police took part in a public march on April 30, 2001, when their contract with the state had lapsed. “Police are on the front lines!” continues the video. “We venture in when others take shelter. We demand wage corrections without delay!”

Efling Union members employed by five municipalities in the capital area and South Iceland will also resume striking on Tuesday, May 5. The members working for the municipalities of Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus voted overwhelmingly in support of strike action. The union’s negotiation committee postponed strike action during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic but announced that the strike would be voted on again after Easter. The strike will affect elementary schools and home services.

Wage struggles must be allowed to continue, concluded Drífa Snædal in her May Day address, responding to criticisms of continued strike actions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “If we push everything aside because of the situation—be it a collective bargaining agreement or wage dispute—we don’t know where it will end.”

 

 

Those in Quarantine Will Receive Salary, Says Prime Minister

Katrín Jakobsdóttir forsætisráðherra

While there are 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iceland, nearly 400 Icelandic residents are currently in home-based quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus. Many have been wondering whether they will receive a salary if they are unable to work from home. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV the government, employers, and trade unions are working toward a solution that will ensure those in quarantine will receive wages.

The Icelandic government, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), and the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) met yesterday to work toward an agreement on the matter, but have yet to announce that the agreement has been finalised.

In an interview with Stöð 2 yesterday, the Prime Minister emphasised that all parties agreed those in quarantine should be paid wages. “The day was spent by all the parties sitting together to find solutions. As I understand it now at the end of the day, we are close to a solution that will ensure everyone receives wages in quarantine and that will be through a co-operative path where we will all contribute,” Katrín stated.

All 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iceland are among Icelandic residents who contracted the virus abroad in Italy or Austria. Authorities added Austria’s Ischgl ski region to the list of high-risk areas today, which includes China, Italy, South Korea, and Iran.

For the most updated information on COVID-19 in Iceland, visit the Directorate of Health website.

Two-Day Hotel Worker and Bus Driver Strikes Called Off

trade union iceland

The planned strike of hotel workers and bus drivers who are members of the Efling and VR unions that was planned to begin at midnight on March 28 and end at 11:59 PM on March 29 has been called off, RÚV reports. While multiple short-term strikes are still planned to go forward in the next week, the cancellation of this two-day action does signal that some progress has finally been made in negotiations between six labour unions, including Efling and VR, and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), Iceland’s employer federation.

The decision to call off the strikes was made at a five-hour negotiation meeting between SA and the unions that was held on Wednesday afternoon, mere hours before the strike was supposed to go into effect. It was the sixteenth such negotiation meeting and had, in fact, been postponed for the last two days because union chairs said that uncertainty with WOW air’s situation would impact negotiations. SA had requested that the forthcoming strike action be postponed in light of the ongoing WOW air negotiations, but the unions rejected this request.

The strike was cancelled “…in light of a new basis for talks, which has now been presented on behalf of the employers’ association, SA,” wrote Efling in a statement on its website. The exact details of the “new basis” was not specified, but Efling congratulated its members on “the great work that has been put into the planning and execution of the strikes so far, which have now resulted in a limited but significant success.”

“Whether it succeeds or not, we’re going to try to make it work in the next days and over the weekend,” remarked Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, the chair of VR.

Both Ragnar Þór and Efling chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir noted that this cancellation does not signal the end of negotiations by any means—it’s simply a step in the right direction. “I must express my feeling that we wouldn’t have made it here except for the fact that the strike weapon is a sharp one and it stings,” said Sólveig Anna.

The next set of 24-hour strikes is scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday next week. The city buses run by Kynnisferðir will also start their rush-hour strikes on Monday.

 

Union Members Approve Strike

Wage negotiations

The members of the Efling labour union have voted in favor of a strike, RÚV reports. The vote comes after wage negotiations broke down between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and labour unions last week. The one-day work stoppage will begin at 10:00 am on March 8 and will end at 23:59 on the same day.

Some 8,000 of the union’s members were invited to vote on the March 8 strike, which would affect around 700 workers in cleaning, housekeeping, and laundry services in hotels and guest houses in the Reykjavík capital area, as well as some nearby municipalities.

SA has disputed the legality of the vote, saying that according to the Unions and Labour Disputes Act, only union members directly affected by a proposed strike are permitted to vote on the action. Efling chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir said, however, that the vote has been organised carefully and with legal counsel. “We are fully confident that we are doing everything correctly,” she stated. A parliamentary meeting is being held on the dispute today and there will be a hearing about it on Monday. It’s expected that there will be a judgement on the legality of the vote before the scheduled March 8 strike.

Of the 862 votes that were cast on the work stoppage, 769, or 89%, voted in favor of striking, while only 67 opposed. 26 voters were neutral on the issue. Given the overall size of the union, however, voter turnout was very low: only 11% of Efling members voted on the issue.

Asked about the vote results, Sólveig Anna remarked that “It’s the overwhelming majority of those who, of course—as everyone ought to understand—want to stop working because their wages are so shamefully low that it isn’t even theoretically possible that they can make ends meet. They are going to stand together now, just like I knew they would.”

In Focus: Wage War

The banking collapse of 2008 took its toll on the Icelandic nation, both financially and emotionally. Icelanders came together in protest, yet perhaps surprisingly, without the leadership of their unions. Now, ten years later, Icelandic unions are fighting for the rights of their members. With many wage agreements expiring at the end of this year, […]

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Icelandic Confederation of Labour Elects First Woman President

Drífa Snædal, General Secretary of the Federation of General and Special Workers, has been elected as the first woman president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), RÚV reports. An organization of 48 trade unions representing workers throughout the country—including office and retail employees, seamen, construction and industrial workers, electricians, and others, ASÍ was founded in 1916. This is the first time in ASÍ’s history that a woman has been president.

The election took place on Friday morning. Drífa received 192 of the 292 votes cast, or 65.8%. Her opponent Sverrir Mar Albertsson, the general manager of Afl, the Union of General and Special Workers in East Iceland, received 100 votes, or 34.2%.

Drífa is a 45 and holds a degree in business administration from the University of Iceland as well as a Master’s degree in labour market studies and labour rights from Lund University in Sweden. Before 2012, when she took her position with the Federation of General and Special Workers, she worked as the managing director of the Left-Green party as well as the Kvennaathvarfið Women’s Shelter.

Drífa said that she looked forward to working with her opponent for the greater good of all members of ASÍ, and made a particular point of recognizing the women who paved the way for her success today. “When a woman is elected president for the first time in the 102-year history of the collective, then I owe a debt of thanks to women’s struggle over the years because the fact that I’m standing here is thanks to them.”