Collective Agreement Signed, Avoiding Strike and Lockout

VR Union. VR Chairman Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson and SA CEO Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir shake on the new collective agreement, March 2024

VR Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) signed a four-year collective agreement just after midnight last night, RÚV reports. The airport workers’ strike proposed by VR Union and the lockout proposed by SA have therefore been called off. VR Union’s chair Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson stated that the agreement is acceptable given the circumstances, but that the matter is not over yet.

“It’s been a long and hard period for us and it’s very gratifying that we’ve gotten this long-term collective agreement,” stated Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir, CEO of SA. The two parties signed an agreement based on a proposal submitted by the State Mediator yesterday. “The mediator submitted an internal proposal that was based on a certain special wage agreement resulting from the main wage agreement that we were finalising and which the negotiating committees of both parties agreed to,” Sigríður added.

Shift changes for airport workers

She stated that the wage hikes for VR Union members are the same as those that have been agreed on with other unions. They include a general percentage-based increase of 3.25% this year and 3.5% for the next three years.

Ragnar stated that the agreement includes an article on changing the shift schedule for Keflavík Airport workers, the group that had been set to strike later this month if an agreement had not been reached. Changes to the group’s shift schedule are to be agreed on by December 20 with the help of the State Mediator.

Last major signing in a series of negotiations

The collective agreement between VR and SA was the last of a series of collective agreements being negotiated on the Icelandic labour market for the coming years. VR Union also signed a collective agreement this morning with the Icelandic Federation of Trade (Félag atvinnurekenda) with terms similar to those of their agreement with SA.

Union Votes on Strike, SA Votes on Lockout

vr union iceland, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson

The Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) is hoping to put pressure on VR Union to conclude the ongoing collective agreement negotiations by voting on a lockout of VR Union office workers, RÚV reports. If the lockout is approved, it would be at the same time as a proposed strike of VR workers at Keflavík Airport.

Several collective agreements have been signed between SA and unions in Iceland in recent days, but negotiations between SA and VR Union continue to be contentious. VR Union members working for Icelandair’s passenger and loading services at Keflavík Airport are currently voting on a three-day strike between Friday, March 22 and Sunday, March 24. In response, SA has decided to hold a vote among its members on a potential lockout of VR office workers.

Read More: Another Collective Bargaining Agreement Signed

According to Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir, the CEO of SA, the purpose of the lockout vote is to put pressure on VR Union to conclude the negotiations on the basis which has already been set by the parties. Voting on both the strike and the lockout will conclude on March 14. SA leaderships has stated that if VR postpones the announced strikes, the lockout will also be postponed.

New Collective Agreements Could Be Signed Today

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Tens of thousands of workers in Iceland may have new collective agreements this afternoon, RÚV reports. Unions within the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Iceland Enterprise (SA) are set to sign an agreement at 5:00 PM this afternoon. There are, however, still a few wrinkles to be ironed out regarding the participation of municipalities.

Union leaders expressed optimism yesterday that a deal would be made today. The Chairman of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), however, stated this morning that the union would not sign the agreement unless all municipalities in Iceland agreed to subsidise school meals. “Simply because this particular measure is a huge measure in the path we’re taking. It is an ISK 5 billion [$36.6 million, €33.6 million] measure, and the state is contributing ISK 4 billion to subsidise school meals, and the local authorities are supposed to contribute ISK 1 billion,” stated Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of SGS.

SGS represents some 44,000 workers in Iceland. Efling Union, which is also a part of the agreement set to be signed today, represents around 27,000 workers. VR, Iceland’s largest union by membership, is not a party to the collective agreement set to be signed this afternoon but continues negotiations with SA today.

Efling Union Workers to Vote on Strike

Strike efling hotel workers union

Janitorial staff in Efling Union will vote on strike action starting this Monday. If approved, cleaners in the Reykjavík capital area would strike on March 18. Efling representatives say the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) breached trust in ongoing collective agreement negotiations by reopening salary negotiations with other unions.

Efling is Iceland’s second-largest worker’s union. Efling’s negotiating committee did not attend a meeting at the State Mediator’s office yesterday and are not expected to attend today’s meeting between negotiating parties. Efling representatives assert that SA offered other unions with the Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) higher salary hikes than previously negotiated without consulting with Efling.

Read More: Unions Split on Wage Negotiations

If approved, the strike would involve around 1,000 workers, according to Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Efling.

Shaky Restart to Icelandic Wage Negotiations

State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson

The first meeting in nearly two weeks between Icelandic unions and Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) was cut short yesterday, RÚV reports. The meeting began at 9:00 AM and was the first meeting since unions suspended negotiations nearly two weeks ago, calling them fruitless. The parties are meeting again today.

SA is demanding a four-year collective agreement be signed. Unions say they have agreed to the demand but ask for a clause in return that would give them a way out of the agreement if inflation and interest rate targets are not met. SA would not agree to such a clause, which was the reason negotiations were suspended.

The parties have reportedly already reached an agreement regarding salaries.

It is less than a year since the last collective agreement negotiations between SA and Efling Union were concluded after a tense and drawn-out negotiation period that involved strike actions. Unions have called on businesses and the government to take more concrete action to fight the high inflation and high interest rates that are impacting Icelandic households.

Wage Negotiations Advance, Media Ban Imposed

State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson

Union and business representatives have restarted wage negotiations after a break of almost a week, Vísir reports. The parties have agreed on a basis for the negotiations, according to State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson. One union leader said IKEA’s price reductions are a good contribution to the negotiations.

Media ban imposed

The negotiations impact the working conditions of some 93% of workers on the general labour market in Iceland. After signs of progress in the negotiations appeared, Ástráður banned all parties from speaking with the media, a move often instituted when an agreement seems nigh.

Price reductions and freezes a positive contribution

Vilhjálmur Birgisson, Chairman of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland, did, however, speak to a Vísir reporter on the price reductions announced by IKEA in Iceland, calling them a positive contribution to the negotiations. The reductions could help in bringing down inflation and interest rates, “which are making Icelandic households miserable,” he stated.

Vilhjálmur pointed out that BYKO has also decided to freeze prices for six months, and encouraged other businesses to follow the two companies’ example.

Optimism in Ongoing Wage Negotiations

Westman Islands fish processing plant

The ongoing collective agreement negotiations in Iceland are going well, according to union representatives. Unions are hoping to negotiate a three-year agreement while the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) is hoping for a five-year agreement. Both sides have a willingness to negotiate, but say the involvement of the government will be crucial.

“We are ready to negotiate and there’s a good spirit between the contracting parties,” stated Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS). “We have reached the point now where it’s quite clear that we need to speak to the government before the weekend, to know what their involvement will be in these agreements.”

Price of services and goods rising

January is the month when fee hikes for public services take effect in Iceland. Prices for goods have also been rising alongside high inflation for more than a year. Both unions and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) have called on municipalities and businesses to keep price hikes to a minimum this year to ease the wage negotiations.

Salaries not a sticking point

Vilhjálmur says that wages themselves are not a sticking point in the negotiations at this time, and speculates that the parties can agree on a period between three and five years for the contract.

It is less than a year since the conclusion of very tense and prolonged collective agreement negotiations between SA and Efling. Tension was also high in November after the current negotiations began, and they were put on hold by union leaders due to proposed municipal fee hikes.

Women in Iceland Still Bear the Brunt of Domestic Labour

Women in Iceland are more likely than men to reduce their paid work hours in order to do unpaid work within the household. Women are also more likely to extend their parental leave than men and bear more responsibility when it comes to communicating with their children’s schools. Eight per cent of men never worry about household chores or childcare.

These findings are from a recent study conducted by Varða, a labour market research institute in Iceland. The study examines how couples balance work and family life and is based on a survey of parents with children 1-12 years old. Heimildin reported first.

Women more likely to work part-time

The study shows that women are more likely to work part-time than men: 68% of mothers were working full-time compared to 96% of fathers. The main reason mothers were working part-time was to make it easier to balance work and family duties. Women bore more responsibility for childcare after parental leave, did more of the communication with schools and after-school centres than men, and were more likely to worry about household tasks and childcare while at work than men. Women had also chosen their careers in order to facilitate balancing family and professional life to a greater extent than men.

Despite having one of the highest women’s employment rates in the world and scoring highly on many measures of gender equality, women in Iceland are more likely to reduce their paid working hours than men in Iceland. Women also bear the brunt of household chores and child-rearing and household management, or the so-called second and third shift.

Balance between work and family affects health

The survey asked parents how often they worry about household tasks and childcare when they are at work. A much higher percentage of women than men reported having such worries on a daily basis (43%) compared to men (27.7%). A higher percentage of men reported never having such worries (8%) compared to women (4.8%).

Varða’s report points to research showing that a balance between family and professional life, or a lack thereof, can have a decisive impact on health, both mental and physical. Studies have also shown that a good work-family balance increases people’s job satisfaction and work capacity.

Read more about the women’s rights movement in Iceland and Iceland’s recent shortening of the work week.

Strike to Cause Flight Delays in Iceland

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Air traffic controllers in Iceland will be striking on Tuesday and Thursday morning next week between 4:00 AM and 10:00 AM, affecting Reykjavík and Keflavík Airports. The strikes mean that planes will not be able to land at the airports during these times, which are peak hours at Keflavík. The strike makes exceptions for emergency and coast guard flights.

The collective agreements of air traffic controllers expired on October 1, and their negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) have gone very slowly, RÚV reports. Airlines are preparing for delays to flights during next week’s strikes in efforts to minimise the disruption to passengers.

This is the third air traffic controller strike in Iceland in five years. The chairman of the Air Traffic Controllers Association of Iceland Arnar Hjálmsson asserts that air traffic controllers’ salaries have lagged compared to other professions in the industry in recent years. There are 152 air traffic controllers in Iceland.

Collective Agreement Negotiations Suspended

vr union iceland, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson

The labour movement cannot drive down inflation alone, the chairman of Iceland’s largest labour union told Vísir. He says wage negotiations have been put on hold due to announced municipal fee hikes as well as what he calls the government’s inaction. Inflation has measured 8% over the past 12 months in Iceland and rose by 0.1% last month.

The aim of labour and business representatives was to complete a new collective agreement by January 31, when the current short-term agreement expires. It is customary for Icelandic municipalities to announce changes to their fees annually, and these changes normally take effect on January 1. VR Union Chairman Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson says unions will have to re-examine the situation once these fee changes have been confirmed, but say that municipalities have proposed fee hikes between 5-30%.

“It’s just a grave situation,” Ragnar Þór stated. “We are going backwards. The government regarding housing issues, regarding fee hikes. We are seeing the cost of living index rise and prices rise. There is upward pressure everywhere. That all somehow works against a good result being reached in the wage negotiations. So all we can do is wait. We can’t be trying to do something alone on some boat in the middle of the ocean when no one is going to participate.”