Flights Delayed as Iceland’s Air Traffic Controllers Strike

Keflavík Airport

Dozens of flights to and from Keflavík and Reykjavík airports have been delayed this morning due to industrial action by the Icelandic Air Traffic Controller Association. The strike ends at 10:00 AM, but will have ripple effects on flights throughout the day as airlines scramble to get passengers to their destinations. Many are expected to miss their connecting flights.

The airline Play has announced the disruption of 19 flights, five of them from North America and fourteen from Iceland to destinations in Europe. The arrivals of North American flights and the departures of European flights have been delayed until the work stoppage ends at 10:00 AM. Icelandair has delayed 12 flights from North America this morning along with most of European flights. In addition, a number of flights have been combined and destinations altered. A flight scheduled for London Gatwick will land at London Heathrow and a flight to Paris will end up in Amsterdam. Planned flights to Zürich and Munich will head to Frankfurt, while a scheduled flight to Stockholm is now destined for Copenhagen.

More work stoppages announced

A second round of work stoppages is expected Thursday morning if a resolution to the labour dispute is not reached before then, with further action taking place next week, according to Mbl.is reporting on the labour dispute. A round of negotiations between air traffic controllers and Isavia, the company that operates all public airports in Iceland, ended last night without an agreement. Al­dís Magnús­dótt­ir, the state mediator in the dispute, says discussions will resume later today. However, the parties are not close to an agreement, according to both Aldís and Arnar Hjálmsson, president of the Air Traffic Controller Association. If the dispute is not resolved, further industrial action will take place on December 14, 18 and 20.

Repeated air traffic controller strikes

The collective agreement of air traffic controllers expired on October 1 and negotiations have gone very slowly. This is the third air traffic controller strike in Iceland in five years. Arnar asserts 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.

 

Clock Winding Down on New Mediating Proposal

The clock is winding down for temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson; with a 20,000-worker lockout set to begin on Monday, Ástráður would need to submit a new mediating proposal sooner than later – if there is to be a vote on the proposal prior to the lockout. As noted by Vísir, Ástráður also occupies a narrower position following a ruling by the Court of Appeal, given that he has to be certain that both parties to the dispute would agree to a vote on his proposal.

No substantive result

After temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called for a “ceasefire” prior to a meeting between SA and Efling on Monday night, SA decided to heed the mediator’s suggestion by postponing its planned 20,000-worker lockout (originally slated to begin on March 1). Likewise, Efling signalled its willingness to cooperate by postponing all further strike action.

When the meeting concluded, in the early hours of February 28, however, Ástráður Haraldsson announced that no substantive result had been reached; he told reporters that he had hoped to convince the parties to vote on a new mediating proposal.

Such an agreement was the basis for the submission of said proposal given that the Court of Appeal had ruled in February that Efling was not required to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) to the Office of the State Mediator with regard to the original mediating proposal, submitted on January 26. In light of this ruling, Ástráður Haraldsson could hardly submit a new proposal without the disputing parties assuring him that it would be put to a vote.

Media blackout

Prior to the meeting on Monday, Ástráður Haraldsson instructed members of each party’s negotiating committee not to speak to the media during the negotiations. He also closed his meetings to the media.

As noted by Vísir, Stefán Ólafsson – an expert in the labour market and standard-of-living research at Efling, and one of the company’s negotiators – shook the weak foundations of the negotiations shortly before noon yesterday by contravening the mediator’s instructions and publishing a post on Facebook.

He wrote that the meeting last night was “put on hold” while SA’s negotiating committee mused on whether to allow the submission of a new proposal: “At the end of the day, it’s food for thought for me: how long people who earn millions of króna a month can mull over an ISK one-thousand salary increase for workers – to no avail,” Stefán wrote.

Ástráður Haraldsson was displeased with Stefán’s statements; first of all, he had asked the negotiating parties to refrain from public comment in light of the sensitive state of the negotiations.

“Secondly, according to the law on trade unions and labour disputes, it is expressly forbidden to publicly report … on statements made in negotiating meetings without the authorisation of the other party, that is, without the consent of both parties. Thirdly, which is perhaps worst of all,  Stefán’s account was simply not true,” Ástráður stated in an interview on Bylgjan yesterday afternoon.

Watching from the sidelines

As noted by Vísir, if no agreement is reached – or no consensus regarding the new proposal is achieved, so that it’s submitted for a vote by both parties over the next 24 hours – it is likely that the government will begin to get worried. However, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir that it was “not yet time” for the government to intervene.

“My assessment of the situation is that the appointed mediator has determinedly worked his way through the issues. He’s really left no stone unturned and continued to explore all options at the meeting [Monday]. We’ll have to wait and see whether he thinks that it’s timely to reconvene the negotiating parties. While people are still sitting down at the negotiating table, I remain hopeful that a successful resolution to the dispute can be achieved,” Katrín stated after a government meeting today.

Katrín added that the government would continue to monitor the situation closely.

“What we’ve been doing, as I’ve previously stated, is assessing the impact of the ongoing strikes. That assessment changes from day to day. After the meeting was called [on Monday], of course, SA’s lockout was postponed. It changes our assessment of the situation so that we do not consider it timely to intervene in the dispute at this point in time,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir yesterday.

Labour Talks: Yesterday’s Long Meeting Inconclusive, Mediator Reticent

Ástráður, Halldór Benjamín

At 9 AM yesterday morning, the negotiating committees of the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) attended their first meetings with the new, temporarily-appointed state mediator, Ástráður Haraldsson.

Just before the meeting began, Ástráður told reporters that, so long as there was some good to be had, he was prepared to meet late into the evening. And meet he did; it was not until 10 PM that same day that the negotiating parties decided to call it a day. The disputing parties are set to meet again at 10 AM this morning.

Below you will find a brief recap, in broad strokes, of yesterday’s events.

The meeting commences

Prior to stepping into the meeting with SA and the temporarily-appointed state mediator, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, told RÚV that she was happy with the new mediator: “We are very happy to have gotten him involved in this dispute for we feel he is willing to listen to our point of view.”

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director General of SA, was not quite as upbeat during an intermission at noon. Speaking to RÚV, Halldór stated that it was “too early to tell how the negotiations between SA and Efling were progressing.” He clarified that the mediator had been meeting separately with the two disputing parties, hoping to find some middle ground.

Asked if he was hopeful, Halldór Benjamín replied with a simple “no.” “I realise our responsibility to society and the enormous financial damage that will be done to the economy in the coming days.”

At the time, Halldór Benjamín expected the meeting to last into the afternoon.

Solidarity meeting at Harpa

While Halldór Benjamín spoke to the media at noon, a large group of people had gathered at the Northern Lights Hall (Norðurljósarsalur) at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall. Efling was hosting a solidarity meeting; a strike, involving, on the one hand, 500 employees of the hotel chains Berjaya and Edition, and, on the other hand, about 70 employees at Samskip, Skeljungur, and Olíudreifing, had officially come into effect at noon. Efling members were there to confirm their participation in the strike and register for payments from the strike fund, which amounts to ISK 25,000 ($173 / €162) per day.

Gas stations busy

At 2.30 PM, Vísir reported that the oil company N1 had closed the delivery of petrol and diesel at several stations in the Southwest corner of Iceland. The outlet reported that gas stations in the capital area were expected to run dry over the coming 24 hours; earlier that day and yesterday, some customers had arrived to stations with large containers to stock up on petrol. The fire brigade later issued a warning, advising against the hoarding of petrol.

Halldór leaves the meeting – on account of the flu

At 5 PM, Halldór Benjamín walked out of his meeting with Efling and the state mediator. But not because talks had stranded. He was feeling under the weather. He told a reporter from RÚV he felt “a pain in his neck, was a bit restless, and was advised to go home.”

The reported, Arnar Björnsson, inquired if his indisposedness derived from being made to swallow any nauseating suggestions. Halldór laughed.

The issue at hand

As noted by RÚV, the gap separating the two disputing parties is not, on the face of it, wide. SA had refused to waver from their offer of a collective agreement similar to the one signed by other unions of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS). The agreement included a general rate increase of ISK 32-52,000 ($222-381 / €207-356) per month. SA had repeatedly stated that it was “out of the question” to offer Efling a different and better contract than other unions.

Before the last real negotiation meeting on January 10, Efling submitted an offer of rate increases in the range of ISK 40-59,000 ($277-409 / €259-382) per month. Additionalliy, the union demanded an ISK 15,000 ($104 / €97) increase in the so-called cost-of-living compensation.

Sólveig Anna stated that the offer still stood and, prior to the meeting yesterday morning, noted that the gap between the parties was not that wide. “It’s not that far apart in terms of money. It’s about [SA’s] pride and whether they are going to let it work for the interests of Efling’s 20,000 members,” she told RÚV.

Proper talks could begin

At 5 PM, Ástráður Haraldsson told reporters that, in his opinion, there was a possibility of engaging in “real collective bargaining negotiations” in the dispute between Efling and SA. He had spent the entire day with the negotiation committees of SA and Efling, meeting each of them separately, although he did not consider “proper talks” having actually begun.

“We’ve been trying to discover the nature of such talks and whether it would be possible to engage in such talks,” Ástráður told RÚV.

Talks renewed at 8 PM

At 6 PM – during a break in the meeting – Eyjólfur Árni Rafnsson, Chair of SA, stepped in for his indisposed colleague and offered an interview to reporters. He told the media that he considered it “overly optimistic” to expect that collective agreements would be signed on that day. Nevertheless, he admitted, it was a “positive sign” whenever people sat down to talk.

At that point, the meeting, which had been going on intermittently since 9 AM, was the longest in the wage dispute to date. Eyjólfur observed that that was “a good thing.”

The meeting resumed at 8 PM, with Ástráður Haraldsson hinting to reporters that the meeting “might run long.” When the meeting began again, Eyjólfur Árni stated: “We’re going to find out if we can see eye to eye and whether we can enter into real negotiations to put this to and end.” Eyjólfur Árni was unwilling to say what exactly SA had proposed, other than that those things that were being discussed with the union were things that SA “would have liked to have discussed in January.”

Meetings finally come to a close

After a long day of meetings, the final sessions finally concluded between 10-11 PM yesterday. Another meeting has been called at 10 AM today.

“We are still in this opening phase and have not managed to enter into actual wage negotiations,” Ástráður Haraldsson told RÚV following the meeting.

As noted by RÚV, although the Efling strikes had only lasted twelve hours, people had already begun stocking up on medicine. The Director of Lyfja, a retail pharmacy, told RÚV yesterday that there was no need for people to stock up on medicines. “There is several months’ supply of medicines in the country, at any given time. Medicines are also, in some cases, life-saving products, and we have received exemptions to carry out this extremely important role of health services, i.e. the distribution of medicines,” Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir told RÚV.

Ministry Dismisses Efling’s Complaint Against State Mediator

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir Efling

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has dismissed Efling’s administrative complaint against the State Mediator’s mediating proposal, RÚV reports. The Ministry believes that the matter is “not an administrative decision that may be appealed to a higher authority.” In what is expected to be a big day, both the Labour Court and the District Court of Reykjavík will be hearing cases related to the ongoing dispute between Efling, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, and the state mediator today.

Lack of consultation, questions about competency

In an announcement on its website at the end of January, Efling stated that it had filed an administrative complaint against the state mediator’s mediating proposal to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. The union demanded that the mediating proposal be repealed as there was a lack of consultation, validity, proportionality, and equality. Efling added that the state mediator was incompetent and could not be considered impartial in the dispute.

On the union’s website yesterday, Efling announced that it had further submitted a request for annulment to the Reykjavík District Court. The reason: a lack of reaction from Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, to Efling’s administrative complaint.

This morning, however, the ministry announced that it had decided to dismiss Efling’s complaint. In the opinion of the Ministry, the mediating proposal, according to Article 27 of the Act on Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, is part of the work of the state mediator and part of the procedure that aims to resolve a labor dispute between the parties. In contrast, paragraph 2 of Article 1 of administrative law states that the law applies when the government, including administrative committees, make decisions about “people’s rights or obligations.”

“Decisions on procedure and decisions that have a general legal effect are, therefore, not considered decisions on the rights or obligations of people in this regard,” the verdict reads.

A “big day” in the labour dispute

As noted by Vísir, today marks a “big day” in the dispute between Efling and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), on the one hand, and in the dispute between Efling and the state mediator, on the other. Hearings will take place today in the Reykjavík District Court in the dispute between Efling and the state mediator (the mediator has requested Efling’s electoral roll in order to put the mediating proposal to a vote among Efling members).

The Labour Court will also begin hearings in the dispute between Efling and SA this afternoon; SA has requested that the court rule whether or not Efling union members are allowed to go through with their planned strikes on Tuesday – while the state mediator’s proposal remains on the table.