Proposed Lockout Legal, Labour Court Rules

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson SA Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise

The Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) had the legal right to call a lockout of Efling Union workers in the ongoing wage negotiations between the two parties, Iceland’s Labour Court has ruled. SA was also legally allowed to let all of its member companies vote on the lockout, even those that do not have Efling Union workers on their payroll, according to the ruling. The lockout and workers’ strikes have been postponed while Efling members vote on a mediating proposal. RÚV reported first.

Lockout would affect over 20,000 workers

The Labour Court case is the fourth legal case filed in Iceland’s most tense wage negotiations in decades. When negotiations came to a halt in February, SA held a vote on whether to impose a lockout on Efling workers. The pending lockout would affect all members of Efling, around 21,000 in total, neither allowing them to show up to work, receive a wage, nor accrue benefits and leave.

All member companies of SA were permitted to vote on the proposed lockout, and it was approved with just under 95% of the votes in favour. The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), Efling Union’s parent organisation, protested the fact that companies without Efling workers on their payroll were permitted to vote on the lockout and filed a case with the Labour Court, demanding the lockout be deemed unlawful. The Labour Court has now ruled in favour of SA.

Vote on mediating proposal

The lockout has been postponed until March 9, as Efling members are currently voting on a mediating proposal put forth by the state mediator on March 1. Voting closes at 10:00 AM on March 8. As such, the ruling has no immediate effect on the negotiations, though it would if Efling members reject the mediating proposal. Efling workers’ strikes, which had led to the temporary closure of several hotels in the Reykjavík capital area, have also been postponed while the votes are cast.

Union Strike Ruled Legal, but Efling Must Hand Over Member Registry

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

Two rulings were delivered today in the drawn-out and tense collective agreement negotiations between Iceland’s second-largest union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). The District Court of Reykjavík ruled this afternoon that Efling Union must hand over the membership registry it has been withholding from the state mediator. Just over an hour later, the Labour Court ruled that a proposed hotel workers’ strike set to begin in Reykjavík tomorrow is, in fact, legal.

District Court rules in state mediator’s favour

In late January, the state mediator presented a mediation proposal in the wage dispute between Efling and SA, which met with criticism from both parties. The proposal was to be put to a vote by the members of Efling, but the vote proved impossible to carry out as Efling withheld its membership registry from the state mediator’s office. The District Court has now ruled that the union must hand over the registry. Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir called the ruling “wrong and unfair” and previously stated she would appeal the ruling if it was not in the union’s favour.

Labour Court rules in Efling’s favour

Meanwhile, some 300 Efling members working at seven Reykjavík hotels have voted to begin striking tomorrow. The Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) had previously challenged the legality of the strike before the Labour Court, which ruled today in the union’s favour.

More Efling members are voting on additional strike actions: 500 hotel workers at the Berjaya Hotels chain and the Reykjavík Edition hotel, as well as some 70 delivery truck drivers are voting on whether to strike. Polls close tomorrow, and if members vote in favour, these additional strikes are set to begin on February 15. Strikes would be called off if an agreement were to be reached between Efling and SA before that date.

Sympathy Strike Declared Illegal

Strike efling hotel workers union

Iceland’s Labour Court has deemed the Efling labour union’s proposed sympathy strike of workers in the Federation of Independent Schools in Iceland illegal, RÚV reports. The proposed strike was scheduled to start at noon on Monday, March 9 and was appealed by SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise.

The sympathy strike was proposed in the wake of stalled negotiations between Efling and the City of Reykjavík. Some 1,850 city employees—including workers in preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and sanitation—have been involved in the ongoing strike actions. Garbage collection did resume this week, however, amid concerns connected to COVID-19. The proposed sympathy strike would include some 500 additional employees who work for the municipalities of Kópavogsbær, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus, as well as those who work in private schools.

“Negotiations on the demands put forward by Efling in relation to the renewal of the Union’s collective agreement with the City of Reykjavík, which expired on 31 March 2019, on behalf of Efling’s members, have proved unfruitful despite the State Conciliation and Mediation Officer’s efforts,” reads an announcement on the Efling website. “On 10 January, this year, Efling’s negotiating committee to the City of Reykjavík agreed to propose a work stoppage for members of Efling working for the City of Reykjavík, under the collective agreement between the City of Reykjavík and Efling. On 17 February, a strike was commenced for an indefinite period, and it is this strike which the sympathy strike now being called is intended to support.”

The City of Reykjavík made an offer to Efling during negotiations in late February, which would include an increase in the average monthly wage of general staff in preschools to ISK 460,000 ($3,620/€3,300) by the year 2022; cutting four hours from the work week, and increasing the number of vacation days to 30 for all employees of the City of Reykjavík.

In its decision, the Labour Court stated that it is impermissible to enter a sympathy strike in order to compel improved conditions in the workplaces that are taking part in a sympathy strike; sympathy strikes can only legally be undertaken to support the union that initiated the strike. According to the Labour Court, this sympathy strike would intend to improve the terms of the Federation of Independent Schools’ contracts as well, and is therefore considered illegal.

Not all of the judges who heard the case were in agreement. Justice Guðni Á. Haraldsson issued a dissenting opinion, stating that he believes the proposed sympathy strike to be legal.




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 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 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’ 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 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.