Publisher Acquitted on Most Counts of Strike Breaking

Árvakur, the publishing company that owns daily newspaper Morgunblaðið was cleared of all but one charge of strike-breaking during a journalists’ strike that took place on November 8 last year. RÚV reports that the Icelandic Journalists’ Union sued Árvakur for publishing news articles on its mbl.is website during the strike. The case was heard by the Labour Court.

The November 8, 2019 journalists’ strike took place between the hours of 10am and 2pm. During that time, 23 articles were published on mbl.is which the Icelandic Journalists’ Union believed constituted strike breaking. During the same time frame, five articles were written by Árvakur’s editor and CEO, Haraldur Jóhannessen. Some of the articles published during the strike had been previously uploaded to mbl.is’ content management system and set to publish during the strike.

While the Labour Court did not agree that it was strike breaking for Morgunblaðið to have published articles during the strike that had been written before the work stoppage began, they did find Árvakur guilty on one charge, namely bringing in journalist Baldur Arnarson, who is a member of the VR trade union, to write news articles during the strike. The Labour Court found this to violate laws governing union and labour disputes.

The Icelandic Journalists’ Union contended that nine journalists had broken the strike by publishing articles on the mbl.is website during the strike action. Árvakur countersued, saying that the Union’s strike had been unlawful in the first place, a charge that they were also acquitted of by the Labor Court.

No negotiation meeting has been called between the Icelandic Journalists’ Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SÁ), which represents Icelandic businesses since December and no new meeting has been scheduled for the future.

 

Media Bill Faces Opposition

A bill mandating financial support of private media companies is no longer on Parliament’s agenda for this session, reportedly due to opposition from the Independence Party, Kjarninn reports. Debate on the bill, which was scheduled for yesterday, is no longer on Alþingi’s agenda.

Media bill majorly revised

The media bill proposes partially reimbursing editorial costs of private media companies. The bill’s initial draft proposed a 25% reimbursement scheme, similar to existing programs the Icelandic government has for music and film production in the country. The bill’s latest revision, released last Friday, has reduced that rate to 18%, a change that affects smaller media companies more than large ones.

The bill’s new version aims to max out government support of private media at ISK 400 million ($3.3m/€3m), capping maximum payouts to any single company at ISK 50 million ($410,000/€370,000). At least three media companies – Morgunblaðið publisher Árvakur, Fréttablaðið publisher Torg, and DV publisher Free Media would likely receive the maximum payout, provided they fulfilled the conditions set by the government. The bill stipulates additional support of media workers whose salaries fall into the lowest tax bracket.

Opposition within

Kjarninn’s sources say that opposition from the Independence Party, a member of the three-party governing coalition, is the reason behind Parliament’s shelving of the bill. Independence Party MPs have expressed strong opposition to the bill, despite it already being passed by the government and all governing parties. Brynjar Níelsson, one of the party’s MPs, described the proposed legislation as “stillborn.”

Media in tight spot

As elsewhere in the world, Icelandic media companies are facing a challenging operational environment. One of the country’s largest papers, Morgunblaðið, laid off fifteen employees last month, following exponentially growing losses over the past three years. Journalists’ collective agreements ran out at the beginning of the year, and negotiations are at a standstill, leading to several media worker strikes over the past few weeks.

Not enough to vote

The much-discussed media bill was one of three parliamentary issues submitted past deadline, and thus required a vote in the chamber in order to be added to parliament’s agenda. When the vote was scheduled to take place, there were not enough MPs in the house to carry it out.

Journalists on 12-Hour Strike Today

Having voted down a proposed agreement with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) this week, members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) went on a twelve-hour strike at 10:00 AM today, RÚV reportsThe strike extends to reporters, photographers, and videographers for online media at Fréttablaðið, Morgunblaðið, RÚV, and Vísir. Print journalists will not go on strike.

Hjálmar Jónsson, Chairman of the Union of Icelandic Journalists (pictured above), stated yesterday that the demands of journalists fall completely within the bounds of the Standard of Living Agreement (a collective bargaining agreement signed in April of this year by various Icelandic unions that emphasises “improved wages for lower-paid workers”). Hjálmar has called for a neutral assessment of the union’s demands. “My offer has not been accepted but it still stands,” Hjálmar stated.  

A meeting between the Union of Icelandic Journalists and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise has been scheduled for next Tuesday. The first proposed agreement was drafted last week. However, approximately 70% of union members voted against the agreement on Tuesday. Yesterday, Árvakur, publisher of Morgunblaðið, laid off 15 staff members.

The first strike on November 8 marked the first time in 40 years that members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists have gone on strike.