1,000 BSRB Members on Strike in Preschools, Primary Schools

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

BSRB has begun its strike actions today as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

As of today, some 1,000 workers are on strike, with more expected in the coming days. BSRB is Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members. Approximately two-thirds of BSRB members are women.

Read more: BSRB Strike Action to Begin Monday

These actions affect, among others, staff in sports and primary schools in Kópavogur and Mosfellsbær, after-school programs in Mosfellsbær, preschools in Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes primary school.

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, says that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities must pay the same wages to BSRB union members as others in similar jobs. BSRB is demanding retroactive wage increases from January 1st, when the last collective agreement was still in effect. The negotiating committee has offered wage increases from April 1st.

Sonja says there is little to no progress in the negotiations, stating to RÚV: “The last meeting was on Friday. We have two agreements in the case, and they didn’t see fit to call for another meeting.”

She continued: “Local authorities pride themselves on equal opportunity actions and have a direct obligation to do so, as they have both job evaluations to ensure equal pay for equal work and pay equity certification.”

Affected schools have needed to cope with staffing shortages. Parents of affected schools have been informed of the shortages, with some parents of children who require special support opting to keep their children at home.

Next week, strike actions are planned in sports programmes and primary schools in Hafnarfjörður, Hveragerði, Árborg, Ölfus, and the Westman islands.

What’s the Status of the Efling Negotiations?

efling strikes iceland

Update: As of March 8, negotiations between Efling and SA have been concluded. Read more about the contract here.

Strikes, short-lasted and contentious negotiations, and now a pending lockout against the Efling trade union have been in the news lately, leaving many who don’t follow Icelandic wage negotiations wondering: what, exactly, is happening on the Icelandic labour market?

Current status

All workers’ strikes have been postponed while Efling members vote on a mediating proposal put forth by the state mediator on March 1. Voting closes at 10:00 AM on March 8. The lockout proposed by the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) has been postponed until March 9, meaning it could still be instituted if Efling members reject the mediating proposal.

Leadup to negotiations

In the fall of 2022, around one-third of all labour contracts in Iceland expired and needed to be renegotiated. Amidst upsets in the leadership of the Confederation of Icelandic Labour (ASÍ) and a particularly difficult combination of high inflation and interest rates, the round of contract negotiations was particularly fraught. Given the recent increases in cost of living, it was also an especially important round to ensure quality of life for workers. Most major trade unions were able to reach compromises with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), mostly in the form of shorter-term contracts. These short-term contracts will be renegotiated with SA when conditions are hopefully less difficult.

Playing hardball

One major holdout has been Efling Union, led by chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir. Efling is the second-largest workers’ union in Iceland and represents some of the lowest-paid workers in the country. Efling has leveraged the difficult negotiating climate to agitate for more substantial wage increases.

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson, whose task was to bring the negotiations between SA and Efling to a productive end, attempted to force a vote within Efling by submitting similar conditions approved by Efling’s peer unions directly to the union membership, circumventing what many see as an overtly militant leadership. Legal wrangling delayed the request and ultimately led to the appointment of a new, temporary, state mediator: Ástráður Haraldsson.

Workers’ strikes

Since early February, Efling members have approved several strike actions, mostly affecting hotels in the Reykjavík capital area. February 20 saw a significant escalation in the tensions between SA and Efling, when Efling’s suspended strikes resumed at midnight. In addition to the original 700 striking hotel workers, other labourers (most significantly among them, truck drivers) have resumed their strikes. As of the time of writing, some 2,000 Efling members are on strike. Efling has, however, postponed a strike among additional workers (in hotels, security services, and janitorial services) that was set to begin on February 28.

Confederation of Enterprise approves lockout

On February 22, SA announced that its members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of a lockout of Efling workers set to begin on March 2. CEO of SA Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson called it a “last resort” to force the conclusion of a collective agreement with Efling Union. Efling Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir accused SA of using the lockout to force the government to step into the conflict.

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, or accrue benefits and leave.

Unclear whether union would support locked-out workers

The pending lockout could leave Efling members in a tight spot as the union’s leaders appear to disagree on whether to make payouts to affected workers. While Efling’s regulations do not prevent the union from making payouts to members affected by a lockout, a notice on Efling’s website states “the union does not hold responsibility for a lockout and the labour dispute fund cannot sustain such payments.”

Efling’s labour dispute fund allocates approximately ISK 25,000 [$174, €164] per worker per day and has been used to pay the 2,000 or so members who were striking. In the case of a lockout, however, Efling would need to support ten times that number, and its funds would reportedly run out in a week.

Some have interpreted SA’s lockout as an attempt to intimate Efling into accepting their demands, and if not, to quickly burn through Efling’s labour dispute fund and force the union back to the negotiating table.

Impact felt at the pump and in hotels

Strikes among Efling workers, now postponed, impacted Icelandic business and society in various ways. A strike among oil truck drivers was felt at the pump in late February, when petrol supplies gradually began to deplete. Several hotels were temporarily closed due to workers strikes.’

Lockout postponed

In light of a meeting scheduled for February 27 between Efling and SA, SA has postponed the potential lockout pending further developments. Originally scheduled to begin Thursday, March 2, the potential lockout will now begin March 6, if no agreement is reached.

At the same time, Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, chairperson of ASÍ, has stated that the planned lockout is potentially illegal on grounds of formal defects in the original notice, in addition to the problem of jurisdiction. According to statements from Kristján Þórður, SA members from outside the capital voted on the proposed measure, rendering it illegitimate. Because Efling trade union exclusively represents workers in the capital region, only capital area members of SA should have been allowed to vote on the matter.

On March 6, the Labour Court ruled in SA’s favour, deeming the lockout legal.

Vote on new proposal approved, strikes and lockouts postponed

Temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, March 1. He told reporters that representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling union had approved of his new mediating proposal and that all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts would be postponed while voting took place.

Voting began on Friday, March 3, at noon, and will conclude on Wednesday, March 8. The lockout and all strikes have been postponed in the meantime.

This is a developing story and will be regularly updated. For more context on the labour situation in Iceland, listen to Deep North Episode 8: Wage Negotiations.

Lockout Postponed, State Mediator Invited to Meeting Tonight

State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson

The planned lockout by the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) against Efling trade union has been postponed for at least four days. Originally scheduled to begin this Thursday, March 2, the potential lockout that would affect some 20,000 workers has been pushed back for at least four days, if no agreement with Efling is reached.

Read more: What’s the Status of the Efling Negotiations?

Following temporary state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson’s call for a “ceasefire” prior to a meeting between SA and Efling this evening, SA has followed Ástráður’s suggestion and postponed the planned lockout. Efling has likewise signalled their willingness to cooperate, postponing all further planned actions.

At the same time, some within the labour movement have questioned the legality of SA’s planned lockout. The Confederation of Icelandic Labour (ASÍ) has filed a case with the Labour Court on behalf of Efling, with the hope of proving the planned lockout illegal.

Read more: Diesel Supplies to Run Dry Soon

The case was submitted over the weekend and a ruling on the matter is expected by the end of the day.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, chairperson of ASÍ, has stated that the planned lockout is potentially illegal on grounds of formal defects in the original notice, in addition to the problem of jurisdiction. According to statements from Kristján Þórður, SA members from outside the capital voted on the proposed measure, rendering it illegitimate. Because Efling trade union exclusively represents workers in the capital region, only capital area members of SA should have been allowed to vote on the matter.

This is the fourth legal case filed so far in the protracted dispute between SA and Efling.

With Strike Vote Nearing, Efling Refuses to Hand Over Membership Records

Aðalsteinn Leifsson

In light of Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s rejection of state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson’s proposal, Efling is now being asked to hand over its list of registered members so that a vote on the proposed mediation can take place.

As of the time of writing, Efling, Iceland’s second-largest trade union, has refused to comply with the request. Now, state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson is appealing the matter to the Reykjavík District Court.

Read more: State Mediator’s Proposal Meets with Criticism

Following a historically short meeting between Efling and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), the state mediator suggested applying the terms negotiated between SGS, another major trade union federation, and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise. Sólveig Anna, in her trademark style, rejected the proposal and called into question its legality. Not all agree with this legal interpretation, including former state mediator Ásmundur Stefánsson, who stated to Morgunblaðið: “it is quite clear that the mediator has the authority to submit a mediation proposal and does not need the consent of the disputing parties to do so. That is a fact.”

Now, in an attempt to avert a strike, the state mediator seeks to submit the terms of the previous SGS agreement to Efling members.

See also: Efling Chair Demands Labour Market MP Intercede

Because of a particularly difficult negotiating climate including rising costs of living, and because Efling represents many of Iceland’s lowest-paid workers, Efling has been particularly militant in its recent negotiations.

However, some have pointed out that Efling leadership’s entrenched position may not necessarily represent the general position of its members. Of its some 20,000 members, a few hundred in the Reykjavík hotel sector would be affected by the strike.

Members of Efling employed in six Reykjavík hotels are expected to vote on their strike action tonight. If the vote goes through, the strike is expected to begin next week.

Update: Efling has since filed an administrative complaint to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour Market regarding the conduct of the state mediator. The Reykjavík District Court has given Efling until this Friday to formally decide whether they will hand over their membership registration to the state mediator.

VR and SA Agree on Contract

iceland trade union

VR Union and SA, the Federation of Icelandic Employers, have settled on a short-term contract that will be valid through next year.

The agreement will retroactively cover November of this year, and includes a 6.75% wage increase, in addition to increased holiday bonuses and adjusted wage tables for hourly workers.

Some have noted similarities between the recent VR contract and that recently reached between SGS and SA.

See also: Possible End in Sight for VR, SA Negotiations

The signing was a rather chaotic affair with representatives from throughout the country present. Official statements were relatively brief, given the long and tiring process it has been so far.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, chairman of the Electrical Industry Association of Iceland, stated to RÚV. “We were trying to press these negotiations as far as possible. I think this is the best outcome under the circumstances.”

Notably, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairperson of VR union, gave no interview after the signing.

After the signing, representatives from both the trade unions, SA, and state mediators sat down to celebrate over waffles, a tradition in Icelandic labour contracts.

In Focus: Wage Negotiations

In Focus: Wage Negotiations

hotel workers strike Reykjavík

Power vacuum When Drífa Snædal resigned from her position as chairperson of ASÍ (The Icelandic Confederation of Labour) this summer, she left a power vacuum at the heart of Iceland’s largest organisation of trade unions. The Icelandic Confederation of Labour consists of 47 trade unions and represents some 2/3 of Icelandic organised labour, around 133,000

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Possible End in Sight for VR, SA Negotiations

vr union iceland, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson

After a late night of fruitless negotiations between VR and SA, the Federation of Icelandic Employers, an end to bargaining may be in sight.

The Assistant State Mediator confirmed that negotiations will resume at 13:00 today, when a final contract will be signed.

Read more: Rising Interest Rates Complicate Wage Negotiations

The details of the final contract are not yet public, but an increased living wage in the face of inflation and rising interest rates has been talked about for some time now.

The current negotiations between VR and SA have been ongoing since November 14, but the last 24 hours have been under a media embargo, given the potentially sensitive nature of the details.

Efling Trade Union has also had a long and contentious negotiation process.

Other unions have also agreed to shorter-term contracts as a compromise in a difficult negotiating climate.

Read more: VR Leaves Negotiating Table

A press conference will be held later today a 14:30 in which Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson, and Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson will give their statements on the importance of the agreement for the labour market.

While the content of the agreement is not yet known, in addition to basic wage increases, sources suspect increased measures in child and housing benefits.