Four Hotels Shuttered as Wage Negotiations Drag On

Strike efling hotel workers union

As the ongoing wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) drags on, managers decided to shutter four hotels yesterday. Two additional hotels will be closed tomorrow – and the seventh on Saturday. The Chair of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG) hopes that the wage dispute will be resolved sooner rather than later.

Heartbreaking having to close again

“It’s an incredible situation in which to find oneself. We have just reopened the hotels after a two-year closure due to the pandemic. The fact that this is happening to us again is heartbreaking,” Kristófer Oliversson, Chair of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG), stated in an interview with Morgunblaðið.

At the end of January, Efling union members working at seven hotels in the capital area voted in favour of a strike beginning on February 7. After two weeks of strikes, the first four of seven hotels targeted by the first round of strikes were shuttered yesterday. These include Hotel Reykjavík Saga and Hotel Reykjavík Grand, which offer, in total, over 400 rooms.

“It’s admirable that the managers of these hotels have held out for such a long time. They’re trying to keep the other three hotels open,” Kristófer stated. Companies within the hotel and hospitality industry are worried about the consequences of the ongoing Efling strikes and further strikes that are impending.

People will be on the streets

According to an announcement from the Icelandic Tourist Board, a decision has been made to close two additional hotels tomorrow – and a third on Saturday. These are Berjaya Reykjavik Natura Hotel, Hilton Reykjavík Nordica, and Berjaya Reykjavik Marina Hotel. The three hotels offer over 600 rooms. Yesterday morning, an emergency phone line was opened for hotel guests who may require assistance or need help with rebookings.

“People will be out on the streets as the week progresses. That is the situation with which the Icelandic Tourist Board is trying to deal,” Kristófer stated.

He also suggested the establishment of a mass-aid centre on the rationale that it was difficult to stop the flow of visitors. He does not see how to transport a large group of people from one place to another.

“The big booking engines don’t provide us with the necessary information so that we can contact guests directly. They keep this information to themselves so as to sell additional services to the guests. This means that it’s unclear whether visitors can be notified of the closures.”

Barring any unforeseen developments, all Efling members who work in hotels and guesthouses will be on strike at noon on Tuesday. Kristófer told Morgunblaðið that there are currently no plans to close hotels that will be affected by these latest strike actions.

“Of course, we hope that the wage dispute will be resolved,” Kristófer Oliversson concluded.

Sólveig Anna Confident That Strikes Will Be Approved

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir Efling

300 employees at Íslandshótel hotels are set to go on strike if action is approved by the Efling union. Efling’s Chairperson is confident that the strike will be approved. Tourism advocates are surprised that the strikes are being directed towards a single employer, RÚV reports.

Efling survey indicates willingness to strike

Efling union members will begin voting on strike action today. If the first wave of action is approved, three hundred employees of Íslandshótel hotels (i.e. custodial staff) will go on strike. Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chairperson of Efling, told RÚV yesterday that, based on conversations with hotel workers, she expected union members to approve strike action.

“A strike notice has been accepted, and voting will begin tomorrow at noon. The strike action applies to union members employed by Íslandshótel hotels. These are approximately three hundred people, custodial staff, who have the opportunity to vote on whether they are prepared to strike in order to push for better contracts: Efling contracts for Efling people.”

“And you expect union members to approve of the action?” a reporter with RÚV inquired.

“Yes, I expect that the action will be met with approval. The results of a very extensive wage survey conducted by Efling indicate that a very large group of Efling members are prepared to quit their jobs to fight for better conditions. Representatives from our negotiating committee have also been visiting these hotels to speak with union members. It’s gone very well, and we had a meeting here yesterday, which also went very well,” Sólveig Anna observed yesterday.

Tourism advocates surprised

Tourism advocates are surprised that the strike action is being directed at a single employer. Kristófer Oliversson, the Director of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG), told RÚV that it was “unbelievable” that these strikes were being directed against almost “a single ID number, a single hotel owner.”

“It’s been just over six months since we were properly up and running, and now another setback. And it’s always the same custodial staff that’s being asked to strike. This is about five per cent of Efling members here in Reykjavík who are being asked to take up the fight, again and again. I find it quite incredible,” Kristófer stated yesterday.

Sólveig Anna added that this was only the first step. “At the same time, we’ve been working on a bigger and more comprehensive plan, which will then go to a strike vote if no wage agreement is negotiated in the near future,” Sólveig Anna observed.

Kristófer told RÚV yesterday that the tourism industry was in “a tight spot” after a difficult time during the pandemic.” There are good months ahead; February has now become a good time to visit Iceland.

When the views of tourism advocates were put to Sólveig Anna, the Efling Chair stated that she did buy the argument. “I find it incredible that people who are willing to keep these companies going, to profit from the work of others, lack the decency to pay those same people a living wage.”

When asked if she expected that further action by Efling would be directed against the tourism industry, Sólveig refused to answer. “I’m not going to answer that at this time. Ultimately, this is for the negotiating committee to decide. We make all our decisions during meetings with the committee, and I discuss them when they’ve been made,” Sólveig Anna remarked.

When asked if any specific groups within the union had refused to strike, Sólveig responded thusly: “No, no groups have refused to go on strike, not at all.”

Staffing Shortages May Counteract Tourism Growth

tourists on perlan

A new forecast by Isavia projects that 5.7 million passengers will pass through Keflavík Airport in 2022. According to the Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, the tourism industry must hire between seven and nine thousand foreign workers to meet demand.

A shortage of waiters and chefs

On Wednesday, Isavia – a company that handles the operation and development of all airports in Iceland – released its 2022 passenger forecast. The forecast, the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, projects that the total number of passengers passing through Keflavík Airport will be 5.7 million.

Following the report’s publication, RÚV interviewed the Director of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG), Kristófer Óliversson, who stated that staffing shortages in the sector would mean that hotels and guesthouses would be unable to meet demand in some areas of the country. “There are always regions that are difficult and have been difficult, but we’ve seen improvement year on year. Continued development means a greater likelihood of available rooms.”

According to Kristófer, a shortage of waiters and chefs is common among associated companies, given that many have abandoned their jobs during the pandemic. Although a few have returned, new hires account for ca. 70-80% of staff today. Kristófer also observed that the tourism industry would need time to recover after the pandemic. Despite improving forecasts, the sector had been hit hardest by the pandemic.

A shortage of seven to nine thousand employees

Addressing the near future of the tourism sector, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, told RÚV that improving prospects were certainly good; nevertheless, conditions could arise wherein fewer travelers could secure desired services, with staffing shortages playing a significant role.

“In general, I’d say that a great many who worked in tourism before the pandemic have now left the industry: ca. 9 thousand people were gone at the end of 2021 when compared to 2019, half of them Icelandic and the other half of foreign extraction,” Jóhannes Þór observed.

Aside from a staff shortage in the restaurant sector, there are not enough guides to meet demand. As noted by RÚV, data from Statistics Iceland indicates that there were over 33 thousand employees in the tourism industry before the pandemic. This number plummeted with the onset of COVID-19, and unemployment rose. According to Jóhannes Þór, these workers have not returned to these jobs, especially Icelanders, which means more foreign employees would need to be hired with the concomitant training costs.

“If we take a broad view, I would say that to meet demand, this year and the next, we’re short between seven to nine thousand foreign workers, and that’s about two thousand more than before the pandemic.”

As noted by RÚV, the high season may also see a shortage of rental cars. Data from the Icelandic Transport Authority indicates that there are fewer rental cars in the country today when compared to before the pandemic. As dealerships have not imported enough cars, some rental companies, like Bílaleiga Akureyrar, e.g., have begun importing cars themselves to meet demand.