Wage Agreements Signed; Keflavík Airport Strikes Averted

Keflavík Airport

Strikes at Keflavík International Airport have been averted following the signing of agreements between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise on behalf of ISAVIA, and the labour committees of the Union of Aviation Workers and Sameyki. The agreements, resulting from prolonged negotiations, will now be presented to union members for a vote, concluding by late May.

Strike action called off

Yesterday, agreements were signed between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) on behalf of ISAVIA and the labour negotiation committees of the Union of Aviation Workers (FFR) and Sameyki, a nationwide union of public servants. The strikes that had previously been announced at the Keflavík International Airport have been called off.

As noted in an article published in IR last weekend, negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement had been ongoing since last September, with the labour dispute being handed over to the Office of the State Mediator on April 8.

As reported by Vísir, State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson expressed satisfaction with the parties reaching an agreement. He noted that people are generally not overly joyous after wage negotiations – but he hoped that everyone was “reasonably dissatisfied.”

The agreements will be presented to the members of Sameyki and FFR, who will subsequently vote on them.

A desired balance struck between negotiating parties

In an interview with Vísir, Þórarinn Eyfjörð, Chairperson of Sameyki, stated that the negotiating parties had achieved the desired balance between their interests. Þórarinn added that the unions were quite pleased with the outcome, although “one is never completely satisfied when signing wage agreements.”

Þórarinn characterised yesterday’s negotiations as “a tough working day” with many positive developments, although one never fully achieves all their goals.

As noted by Vísir, the union members’ vote on the agreement will conclude around May 20. Þórarinn expressed confidence in taking the agreement to the members, noting that an information campaign will now begin, followed by a voting process just before May 20 expected to end between May 23 and 24.

Þórarinn remains optimistic about the agreement’s approval, though he acknowledged that nothing could be guaranteed.

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Airport Strikes to Begin in May

Keflavík Airport

The union of aviation workers and Sameyki, a nationwide union of public servants, have agreed to strike action at Keflavík airport starting 9 May, Vísir reports.

Negotiation standstill

Around 80% of the aviation workers union approved the action. Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement have been ongoing since September 2023 and the labour dispute was handed over to the State Conciliation and Mediation Officer on 8 April.

On 28 April, aviation workers felt that negotiations with SA Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise on behalf of Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland, had come to a standstill.

Departures halted

The strike action will begin at 4 PM on 9 May with a ban on overtime and training. Airport security workers will strike from 4 to 8 AM on Friday 10 May, Thursday 16 May, Friday 17 May and Monday 20 May.

Unnar Örn Ólafsson, head of the aviation workers union has said that these four hour work stoppages should halt departures and that they were chosen because of how they impact the airlines. “Passengers will not be able to enter if the security check is closed,” he said. “It will also take longer to load passengers into the airplanes.”

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Airlines Eye Direct Flights Between China and Iceland

Keflavík airport

Chinese airlines, such as Juneyao and Air China, are exploring direct flights between China and Iceland. He Rulong, the Chinese ambassador to Iceland, revealed this at a press conference at the Chinese embassy today, VB.is reports.

Shanghai or Beijing to Keflavík

Last week, the ambassador discussed potential flight routes with Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland. He told reporters that Isavia wants to strengthen its cooperation with Chinese airlines and that direct flights could begin within a few years. He hopes to see them up and running even sooner, as a large portion of tourists in Iceland visit from China.

“The discussions have been ongoing this year and I know they’re looking at options with a few different airlines,” the ambassador said. “The flights could be between Keflavík and either Shanghai or Beijing.”

Plans halted by pandemic

Direct flights had been in discussion shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began and the airline Juneyao was already planning flights from Shanghai to Keflavík with a layover in Helsinki, Finland. Two flights per week were being scheduled, but the pandemic disrupted these plans.

“Many are now asking when this could happen,” the ambassador said. “Some say in five years, others in three. My answer would be that we should be even more optimistic and work hard to make this happen sooner rather than later.”

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No Decision on Strikes in Latest Air Traffic Controllers’ Talks

Keflavík Airport

Negotiations between air traffic controllers and Isavia failed to produce an agreement earlier today, RÚV reports. The parties will reconvene at the State Mediator’s office on Friday, with no further strike actions currently planned by air traffic controllers.

Negotiations progressed slowly

A negotiation meeting that took place earlier today between air traffic controllers and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, representing Isavia (the company that operates all public airports in Iceland), did not yield results.

The disputing parties have decided to meet again at the office of the State Mediator on Friday. Arnar Hjálmsson, Chairman of the Air Traffic Controllers Association, told RÚV today that no decisions had been made among air traffic controllers regarding further strike action. 

As previously reported on IR, air traffic controllers previously ceased work for four hours in strike actions over three days before Christmas but postponed the fourth due to the volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The collective agreement of air traffic controllers expired on October 1 and negotiations have progressed very slowly.

Air Traffic Controllers to Strike Thursday Amid Failed Talks

A negotiation meeting between Icelandic air traffic controllers and Isavia was called off at 5 PM yesterday without an agreement, Vísir reports. Air traffic controllers will undertake additional strike action on Thursday morning. 

Next meeting on Thursday at 2 PM

A negotiation meeting between the Icelandic Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, representing Isavia (the company that operates all public airports in Iceland), began at 3 PM yesterday. The meeting, which took place at the offices of the State Mediator, concluded two hours later without an agreement being reached, Vísir reports.

The next meeting in the wage dispute is scheduled for Thursday at 2 PM. This means that additional strike action scheduled for the morning of Thursday, December 4, will be implemented.

As reported yesterday, the travel plans of thousands of passengers were disrupted when the first wave of strike actions hit yesterday morning. In addition to the planned strikes on Thursday, similar actions have been announced for Monday and Wednesday of next week.

Commercial airlines Icelandair and Play are now assessing their legal position regarding the issue, stating that the actions of the air traffic controllers have caused significant damage to the companies.

Agreements expired October 1

As noted in an article on IR yesterday, the collective agreement of air traffic controllers expired on October 1 and negotiations have progressed very slowly. This is the third air traffic controller strike in Iceland in five years. Arnar Hjálmsson, president of the Air Traffic Controller Association, has asserted that the salaries of Iceland’s 152 air traffic controllers have lagged compared to other professions in the industry in recent years. The strike makes exceptions for emergency and Coast Guard flights.

Obstructing Media Coverage of Deportation Was “Misunderstanding”

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson says that the most likely explanation for Keflavík Airport staff obstructing journalists during a deportation last November was that they “misunderstood” the request made by the Police Commissioner’s Support Department. Isavia employees turned floodlight against a crowd of reporters, preventing them from filming or photographing the deportation of 15 people last November. The deportation sparked criticism and protests in Iceland and was later ruled illegal.

The Minister’s statement was part of an answer to Pirate Party MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson’s question: “By whom and on what grounds and basis, including legal sources, was a decision made to direct floodlights at media personnel that obstructed their work on the night of November 3, 2022 at Keflavík Airport?” The National Police Commissioner and Isavia issued a joint statement following the incident which said that the two parties regretted that police recommendations were not clear enough. The statement also underlined that police control the implementation of such events.

In his response to Andrés Ingi, the Minister of Justice stated that a review of the incidents implementation, there was no indication that police had specifically directed Isavia employees to obstruct the work of the media in any way. “[T]he most likely explanation for the incident is that there was a misunderstanding regarding the request of the support department to be able to operate without disturbance in the restricted area of the airport, in such a way that the request also included instructions that the movement of the media should be restricted.”

The Minister of Justice stated that work procedure has been review to prevent incidents like this from happening again.

German Airline Condor Cancels Egilsstaðir and Akureyri Connections

condor airline iceland

German airliner, Condor, has cancelled its intended connections to Akureyri and Egilsstaðir, which were announced last summer. Vísir reports.

When the connections were announced, it was originally scheduled for weekly service between Frankfurt and the regional airports.

Read more: German Airline, Condor, to Begin Service to Akureyri and Egilsstaðir

According to Isavia, more time should have been given to allow travel agencies to prepare bookings in advance. Plans to begin the service in 2024 are reportedly underway.

According to Sigrún Björk Jakobsdóttir, managing director of Isavia’s domestic airports, “there are many factors that led to this result. The marketing abroad did not start early enough to take off for this year, and shifting market conditions also played a part in this happening. The interest of airlines in international flights to the North and East is constantly growing, we have seen this at many industry conventions abroad.”

Never More International Flights Direct to Icelandic Countryside

Akureyri and Egilsstaðir are smaller, regional airports. Akureyri is currently serviced by a handful of international connections, while Egilsstaðir is still only serviced by domestic flights. Many in the tourism industry hope to better connect Iceland’s regional airports, to open up North and East Iceland for more tourism.

Sigrún Björk also stated: “It is extremely important to continue offering access to the country through new portals in line with the government’s policy to promote tourism in all parts of the country. It will continue to be our main goal and the interest is clearly there. The availability of international flights through Akureyri has never been greater, and travel agencies that offer trips there have been increasing the number of trips.”

Market research indicates that many tourists who visit Iceland once express interest in exploring other, less accessible, parts of the country. Germany is a main driver in the growth of the Icelandic tourism industry, and Sigrún Björk expressed her full confidence in Condor’s future commitment to Icelandic connections.

Icelandic to Take Precedence on Keflavík Airport Signage

Keflavík Airport

The board of directors at Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland, has decided to renew the signage at Keflavík Airport so as to emphasise the Icelandic language; Isavia will foreground Icelandic on all instructional and informational signs at the airport.

The Icelandic Language Council

The Icelandic Language Council was established in 1964 and operates according to Article 6 of Law No. 61/2011 regarding the status of the Icelandic language and Icelandic sign language: “The role of the Icelandic Language Council shall be to provide public authorities with academically-informed advice on matters concerning the Icelandic language, and to make proposals to the Minister regarding language policy.”

The law also stipulates that the Council may “take the initiative to draw attention to both positive and negative aspects of the ways in which the Icelandic language is used in the public sphere.”

With a view to this provision of the law, the Icelandic Language Council has persistently drawn attention to the conspicuously anglicised signage at the Keflavík National Airport: “English is the primary language on almost all of the signs at the airport,” a journalist at RÚV writes, “with information in Icelandic playing a secondary role or none at all.”

Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Iceland, brought attention to the issue again after Icelandair announced that it would resume the custom of addressing passengers in Icelandic first, prior to reverting to other languages.

Isavia responded with reference to security concerns, but critics pushed back, noting that local languages were foregrounded in many international airports without such a thing being a cause of concern; Gaelic is foregrounded at Irish airports ahead of English.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir intervenes

An article on Mbl.is notes that Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, emphasised these concerns to the Board of Directors of Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland. According to Mbl.is, Lilja had “commented on the marginalisation of the Icelandic language at the airport at the time before reemphasising her concerns following Icelandair’s decision.” Lilja reached out to former minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson, the newly-elected Chairman of the Board for Isavia, who then raised the issue at a board meeting (see below entry:

“Concerns have been raised, and comments made, in public, by, among other parties, the board of the Icelandic Language Council in 2016 and 2017, regarding the use of language on informational and instructional signs at the Keflavík Airport. Isavia’s board discussed these issues in 2018. Over the recent days, criticism has resurfaced. In light of this criticism, Isavia’s board hsa agreed upon the following:

‘Extensive renovations are currently underway at Keflavík Airport. Alongside the current alterations, Isavia’s board of directors has decided to devise a plan to renew the airport’s signage, in phases, in the near future. During this renewal, the principle of ensuring the foregrounding of the Icelandic language on instructional and informational signs will be followed.’”

Three Hundred Participate in Disaster Drill at Reykjavík Airport

An extensive disaster drill was held at the Reykjavík International Airport on Saturday, involving police, the fire department, ambulances, search and rescue teams, Red Cross representatives, and 60 people who volunteered to play injured civilians. RÚV reports that three hundred people took part in the exercise. Drills of this magnitude are held at every international airport every four years.

Jónas Sigurbjörnsson (Björgunarsveitin Ársæll)

These drills are extremely important for emergency responders, says Árni Birgisson, coordinator of airports and aviation security for Isavia. “Fortunately, flying is our safest form of travel, so our readiness is very seldom put to the test other than through these exercises.” To ensure that responders are prepared for every eventuality, considerable effort is put into making the drills as realistic as possible.

Jónas Sigurbjörnsson (Björgunarsveitin Ársæll)

The scene on Saturday was a dramatic one, with thick black smoke wafting over the site of the drill. According to the staged scenario, an airplane was supposed to have skidded off the runway during landing and collided with a stationary plane. This crash would have caused one of the planes to burst into flame and resulted in the death or serious injury of dozens of people.

Volunteers playing victims in the drill were, therefore, posed in various states of distress along the runway so that responders would have to act fast and prioritize the injured, even as the plane continued to burn.

Air Canada Resumes Scheduled Flights to Keflavík Airport

Air Canada has resumed scheduled flights between Canada and Keflavík Airport. The airline has not offered direct flights to Iceland since 2019.

Several flights to Keflavík a week

As air traffic around the world approaches pre-pandemic levels, new airline routes are regularly introduced. Today, Isavia announced that Air Canada – Canada’s largest airline by fleet size and passengers carried – had resumed summer flights to Keflavík Airport. The airline last flew to Iceland in 2019.

Air Canada will offer flights between Keflavík and Toronto four times a week and flights between Keflavík and Montreal three times a week. Flights will be offered until early October.

“We sincerely welcome Air Canada back to Keflavík Airport after two difficult pandemic years,” Grétar Már Garðarsson, Director of Isavia’s Airline Relations and Route Development stated. “Air Canada is a much-valued collaborator, and we look forward to developing our important relationship in the coming years. The return of Air Canada is a clear sign that Iceland is an exciting and popular destination.”

The same press release also quotes Marc Sam, Head of Air Canada’s Sales and Marketing Department in the Nordic and Baltic region: “These are exciting times for our clients in Iceland, who can now begin to plan their next trip to rediscover Canada. Direct flights to Toronto and Montreal will allow our customers to fly straight to Canada and continue onward to destinations in North and South America. We’re excited to welcome our customers aboard.”