Another Collective Bargaining Agreement Signed

A new collective bargaining agreement was signed yesterday, Vísir reports, between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the labour unions The Electrical Industry Association of Iceland, the food and restaurant union Matvís, the Icelandic Union of Marine Engineers and Metal Technicians, and the printers’ union Grafía.

Stability and gratitude

The contract worked out between the parties is to last four years, and outlines terms similar to the agreement recently approved by the labour union Efling and others last week.

SA director Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir told reporters that the aim of the agreement was for “economic stability”, adding, “We are just incredibly proud and grateful after the day today.”

Ball in their court

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, the director of the The Electrical Industry Association of Iceland, was more guarded in his response to the contract.

While saying that it was indeed good news that their workers had gotten new wage agreements, a pay rise is not the only thing that affects economic stability and keeping up with the cost of living.

“It is also extremely important that interest rates and inflation reduce,” he told reporters, adding, “The ball is in the court of the Central Bank, companies in this country, and state and local authorities to hold back on tariffs and participate in this project with us. That, of course, is what matters. We send the ball their way.”

More negotiations to come

The next major round of labour negotiations is to take place between SA and VR, which is the labour union of employees in commerce, services and offices.

Talks between SA and VR have been contentious, and were recently broken off, but talks between the two parties are set to resume tomorrow.

In Focus: The 2023 Women’s Strike

women's strike 2023

On October 24, 2023, thousands of people swarmed Arnarhóll hill in downtown Reykjavík, holding protesting signs, babies, and each other’s hands, turning the city centre into a historic spectacle. Iceland’s seventh Women’s Strike (Kvennaverkfall) had a much larger turnout than expected, with the crowd spilling out across Hverfisgata and Lækjargata streets. An estimated 70,000 to […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Does Iceland have many foreign residents? What are the wages and working conditions like for foreign workers?

reykjavík iceland esja

Yes, Iceland has a significant number of foreign residents. The latest figures from Statistics Iceland show that immigrants comprise around 18% of the total population of Iceland.

The Icelandic economy has grown quickly in the years following the 2008 banking collapse, largely driven by the tourism industry. However, given Iceland’s small population pool, the recent economic expansion is largely dependent on foreign labour.

Of Icelanders with a foreign background, Poles make up by far the largest group. As of 2022, some 20,896 were living in Iceland, or 34.2% of the total immigrant population. The second- and third-largest groups are comprised of people from Lithuania and Romania respectively.

Employment opportunities mean that Iceland's immigrant population is largely clustered around the capital region, though residents with a foreign background also make up a notable part of the Westfjords. One of the least-populated regions of Iceland, tour-related services have become a large part of this region's economy.


Though Iceland is an attractive destination for many, there are also realities to immigration.

For example, a 2018 study by the University of Akureyri found while the average monthly salary in that year for full-time workers was 721,000 ISK [$5,168; €4,727], 60% of immigrants made only 400,000 ISK [$2,866; €2,623] or less per month.

Besides statistics, there is of course also a subjective element to the immigrant experience. Iceland is a small community with a unique language. For some, this is a major attraction to life in Iceland, but for others, it can be alienating. Some may also find themselves working largely English-based jobs in the tourism and service sector, and never truly integrating to Icelandic society.

Unfortunately, there have also been increasing incidents of wage theft, in which employers withhold earnings from workers who may not be in a position to press their rights. Read about the rights of workers here, in English.

This is of course a large issue with many facets. Read our coverage of social issues, and check out our coverage of Iceland's largest immigrant population below.

Prospective immigrants to Iceland may also find this Ask Iceland Review helpful: How can I move to Iceland?

 

Deep North Episode 49: Women Look to the Future

Arnarhóll hill women's strike 2023

It’s not an exaggeration to call the most recent Women’s Strike historic. With some 70-100,000 women participating, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the strike attracted international media attention and injected fresh energy into feminist activism in Iceland. We take a look at our 1986 coverage of Women’s Day Off and consider how far we’ve come, and where we have yet to go.

From the Archive: Women Look to the Future

women's day off iceland

On October 24, 1975, women across Iceland went on strike to demonstrate the importance of their labour, both professional and domestic. Known as kvennafrídagurinn, or Women’s Day Off, some 90% of Icelandic women participated in the labour action. Shortly after, in 1976, Iceland passed its first legislation on gender pay equality, and though little was fixed overnight, it was a step in the right direction. Since the initial 1975 strike, Women’s Day Off has been held several times, with women symbolically leaving work early to demonstrate the still-extant pay gap. As of 2022, the unadjusted gender pay gap in Iceland was 9.1%.

Given the importance of this day, the editorial staff of Iceland Review was surprised to find no coverage of the original 1975 strike in our archives. It was only in 1985, after another 10-year anniversary strike, that the magazine’s editorial team covered the burgeoning women’s rights movement.

If progressive legislation on gender pay equality is still relatively young in Iceland (trailing the US Equal Pay Act of 1963 by more than a decade, for instance), many mindsets and attitudes have likewise only changed in the surprisingly recent past. Norms can change quickly, and although Iceland is often hailed as a beacon of social progress, this history is in many ways still a young one. And while our coverage (or lack thereof) of Women’s Day Off shows that change does sometimes happen overnight, social progress is not something that plays out automatically in history. History is moved when people come together and act, like so many Icelandic women did in 1975.

NB: This archival content first appeared in Iceland Review in 1986. As such, it may not reflect the current editorial standards of Iceland Review.

The meeting was the most unforgettable I have ever taken part in. It convinced me that though a huge meeting of men of the same mind might influence the authorities when women achieve such conviction, the foundations of society creak,” commented Adalheidur Bjarnfredsdottir, union leader and one of three speakers on Iceland’s famous Women’s Day in 1975. On 24th October, Icelandic women staged a one-day stoppage both at home and in the workplace, marking the beginning of the United Nations Decade for Women. Women drew attention to the importance of their work with the largest open-air meeting ever held in Iceland, attended by 25,000 people at Laekjartorg in central Reykjavik.

The clearest single indication of the achievements of the Decade for Women, which has just come to an end, is the election of a woman, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, to the presidency in 1980. Not simply a symbol of national unity and a splendid representative of her country on her travels abroad. President Vigdis presents living proof that women’s campaign for equal rights involves deeds as well as words. Many of her backers during the run-up to the election were men, and she was elected by voters of both sexes – proof that great strides have been taken towards real equality. The individual is no longer judged by sex but for his or her own character.

Marking the end of the Decade for Women, new surveys on the status of women in Iceland have confirmed various established facts, while also revealing that men and women in Iceland have enjoyed equal educational rights since the passing of legislation in 1911. But in spite of eight decades of nominal equality, the roles of men and women still differ greatly, both in education and at work.

Over 90% of student teachers and nurses are women, while only a handful of female students can be found at the Technical College, agricultural colleges, and the Marine College. The last decade has, however, seen women make a strong bid for education, and since 1980 over 40% of graduates from the University of Iceland have been women, as against only 20% in 1975-6. The majority are still graduating with a BA degree in the humanities or with a BSc in nursing, while men dominate the Faculty of Engineering and Science.

women's day off iceland

According to statistics from 1983, women made up 43.5% of the workforce, while their wages were only 29.3% of total income. Married women, 24.8% of the workforce, earned only 16.7% of the total. Although women in unskilled occupations now suffer little pay discrimination, among the university-educated, the gap between men’s and women’s salaries has, if anything, widened, but this factor reflects women’s choice of subject at university level. Women earn only 65% of the national average wage per man-year, which has hardly changed since 1980; this indicates that women predominate in the lowest-paid categories.

In “Women, What Next?,” a book which reviews women’s achievements over the past decade, Marge Thome puts forward the interesting theory that low pay is one of the factors which influences Icelandic women to bear more children (2-3) than the average western European. The wife’s wages make such a relatively insignificant contribution to the household that she feels able to stay at home with her children for several years. In many cases, she has no choice, as only 8.9% of children aged 2 to 5 are provided with full-time day nursery care, and the majority of places are allotted to priority groups such as single parents and students. About 35% of children aged 2 to 5 can attend playschool for half the working day. Childminders are in great demand, as about 80% of Icelandic women go out to work either full- or part-time.

Although President Vigdi’s Finnbogadottir has set a spectacular precedent, Icelandic women in general have a difficult time reaching positions of leadership. In the Althing (parliament), women only hold nine of the sixty seats, and in the seventy years since female suffrage became a reality, only 17 women have been elected to Althing. Two women have held ministerial portfolios, and five have been ministerial under-secretaries.

Women have done better in local politics, and in three districts women hold 40% of council seats; but on the other hand, 50% of local councils include no woman at all, mostly in rural areas. In the past decade, the number of women in managerial positions in the civil service has risen by 7%, and women have become increasingly active in the trade union movement.

Compared with women in general around the world, Icelandic women have a good many advantages. They live to an average age of 80 years – and generally the Icelanders and Japanese lead the world in longevity. This indicates the high standard of health care, which is almost unparalleled, especially with regard to maternity and child health. In the 1960s, preventive health care for women was spotlighted by a mass campaign against cervical cancer, the second most common form of the disease in Icelandic women. The campaign has produced tangible results in the form of a dramatic drop in the incidence of cervical cancer and greatly improved chances of cure. A similar mass screening service is now being introduced for breast cancer.

It was never claimed that women would achieve full equality by the end of the Decade for Women, but surveys show women gaining ground in every field, especially in the arts. The number of women in the Writers’ Association, for instance, has doubled in the past ten years, and women are clearly not resting on their laurels, even though their decade may be over.

Deep North Episode 44: Working it Out

work week iceland

A few years ago, Iceland instituted a four-day work week. It’s gone off without a hitch and everyone’s been happier since. At least that’s the story that has spread through foreign media outlets.

The truth is much more complex. Firstly, it’s not a four-day work week, but a 4.5-day work week. Secondly, it technically only applies to public service workers. Thirdly, although preliminary data shows the shortened work week has had many positive impacts, there are still many kinks to work out in its implementation. And when we examine those kinks, we begin to realise that long working hours are only one of the challenges faced by Iceland’s labour market – and that the shortened work week is only one solution of many that will be needed in the coming years.

Read the story here.

Working It Out

iceland work week

A few years ago, Iceland instituted a four-day work week. It’s gone off without a hitch and everyone’s been happier since. At least that’s the story that has spread through foreign media outlets. The truth is much more complex. Firstly, it’s not a four-day work week, but a 4.5-day work week. Secondly, it technically only applies […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

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.

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.

Rights of Fishermen Regularly Violated, According to Chairperson of Icelandic Seamen’s Association

fishing in Iceland

In a recent report by RÚV, Bergur Þorkelsson, chairperson of the Icelandic Seamen’s Association, states that the rights of seamen are regularly violated.

By law, seamen are allowed up to two months’ of wages if they fall ill or injured during their employment period. However, according to Bergur, “traditional” expectations in the fishing industry mean that it is often difficult for seamen to actually take the leave they are entitled to.

This was recently illustrated by the case of a seaman who lost his job after taking a sick leave, which he was legally entitled to, for mental health reasons.

Read more: Never Fewer Accidents at Sea

According to Bergur, the culture of the fishing industry in Iceland means that seamen are often stigmatized for taking their sick leave. In an industry that has traditionally been very dangerous, this is especially problematic, as seamen feeling able to take off when they are unwell is important for both the safety of the individual and crew. “This is a problem,” Bergur stated to RÚV. “Seamen are all on their own, and need to be tough guys who don’t bother anyone about anything. We get cases like this often. I haven’t seen anything about mental illness until this case, but it’s common for seamen to avoid applying for benefits for fear of losing their jobs.”

The violation of the legal rights of seamen is further complicated by the nature of their employment contracts. Because work in the fishing industry is seasonal, a seaman may not be directly let go because of illness. Instead, he may simply not be re-hired for the next season. This grey area allows fishing companies the ability to deny that they may be discriminating against seamen who are simply making use of their legal rights.

Many aspects of the Icelandic fishing industry are still very traditional. This is a problem, states Bergur, because in many cases, work contracts can be informal and verbal. Fishing companies may verbally promise fishermen to be re-hired, but when they spend some time ashore, they show up to work after several weeks and find they’ve been let go. In these cases, because the seaman are not even aware of their termination, they have not had the opportunity to look for employment elsewhere, which can severely undermine their job security.