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.

Vote on New Proposal Approved, Strikes and Lockout Postponed

State mediator

Temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference at 10 AM this morning. 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 the proposed lockout would be postponed while voting took place.

Voting to begin on Friday

“Good morning, I’ve called this meeting because I’ve decided to submit a new mediating proposal in the dispute between SA and the Efling union,” temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson told reporters at a press conference that began at 10 AM this morning.

“This mediating proposal will replace the old one, which was originally submitted on January 26. The involved parties have agreed to put the proposal to a vote, which will be conducted on the website of the State Mediator’s Office. Voting will begin on Friday, March 3, at noon, and it will conclude on Wednesday, March 8. We believe that the results will be in shortly thereafter. The parties have also agreed to postpone all ongoing and impending strikes and the lockout beginning at noon today and until the results are in.”

Ástráður added that the new proposal was very similar to the original one; the agreement would be retroactive and salary increases would be the same as stipulated in agreements signed by other unions. “There is one item that is different. There is an alteration to the employment title for general workers in guesthouses and their respective salary bracket, but otherwise, it’s the same agreement as signed in the SGS agreement.”

Ástráður also noted that the parties would have six days to vote on the proposal to ensure that as many people as possible could vote.

Things evolve over time

When asked to pinpoint what exactly had led to this resolution, Ástráður responded thusly:

“It’s always the case, in such disputes, that life goes on, and things change, and we’ve had strikes going on for nine or ten days straight, which affects these negotiations. But the main thing is that the parties managed to conclude certain matters that aren’t a part of the proposal itself – and which have nothing to do with my role in these negotiations – but that matter in their communications and their future relationship. They managed to wrap that up yesterday. So they’ve agreed to vote on the proposal. But we’ll have to wait for the results.”

Ástráður clarified the above point by pointing to certain side agreements, aside from the main wage negotiations, that aren’t addressed directly in the proposal itself, but that were crucial to the proposal being approved. When asked if the negotiating committees would encourage members to approve of the proposal, Ástráður was unwilling to say.

Displeased with the retroactive clause of the agreement

Vísir also spoke to Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director of SA, who stated that he would need to place the proposal within its proper context. The dispute had been locked in a Gordian knot and that the parties were worn out after long negotiations. The strikes and impending lockout also had an effect.

“We expect that the disputing parties will encourage members to approve of the proposal,” Halldór stated, emphasising that the wage agreement stipulated in the new proposal was, in its material substance, the same as the original proposal. He also stated that he was not pleased with the fact that the agreements would be retroactive, as he did not want to reward unions for going on strike.

“Everyone had to yield certain demands … the magic often occurs in the grey areas,” Halldór observed. He concluded by saying that he was greatly displeased with the nature of the two parties’ discourse over the past weeks.

This article was updated at 10:46 AM

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.

Diesel Supplies to Run Dry Soon

driving in reykjavík

Due to an ongoing strike among oil truck drivers, petrol supplies are quickly depleting at Reykjavík stations, and representatives of major stations anticipate that supplies of diesel fuel will soon run out, Vísir reports. The CEO of N1 told the outlet yesterday that the company’s stations will close “one after the other” in the coming days. He is particularly concerned about the situation that may arise after the weekend.

Wage negotiations remain at a standstill

There is still no progress in the wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA); after Ástráður Haraldsson, the new temporarily-appointed state mediator, failed to inspire progress last weekend, members of the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) voted to approve a lockout of some 20,000 workers. The lockout is set to begin on March 2 at noon.

Meanwhile, strikes among oil truck drivers – alongside employees at the Berjaya and the Edition hotels (in addition to the original 700 striking hotel workers and other labourers) – resumed last Sunday at midnight. Since then, petrol supplies have gradually begun to deplete.

Representatives of major stations anticipate that supplies of diesel fuel will run dry soon. The CEO of N1 told Vísir yesterday that the company’s petrol stations would close one after the other in the coming days. He also expressed particular concern over the situation that may arise after the weekend.

“The petrol situation is better, but with regard to diesel stocks, I fear that the situation will become difficult around or after the weekend … I really don’t want to imagine the situation after the weekend, but it will be serious.”

Many N1 employees are members of the Efling union. Regarding the planned lockout of SA, Hinrik stated that N1 employees were “not at all ready to stop working.”

Companies facing a similar situation

As reported by Vísir, other oil companies face a similar situation. The CEO of Olís told the outlet yesterday that the situation was “difficult” and that, in some cases, both diesel and petrol supplies had run out, or were about to run out, at some of the company’s largest stations.

Drivers can view Ólís’ inventory status at its various stations online.

As supplies slowly run dry, some drivers have resorted to hoarding fuel. Last week, a truck driver posted a video on Tik-Tok in which he filled huge plastic tanks with diesel fuel. The first reports suggested that the man had pumped approximately four thousand litres, but it now seems that the quantity was even greater. Such a thing is both illegal and highly dangerous,

Þórður Guðjónsson, CEO of Skeljungur, told Fréttablaðið yesterday that it was a matter of “grave” concern when drivers carry more fuel on board their vehicles than the law allows. He also maintained that records were broken at petrol pumps last week.

Lockout to have a greater impact than strikes

Þórður also told RÚV that the effect of SA’s lockout would be much greater than that of the strike. “Contractors who drive for us belong to Efling, and as a result, they will not be able to distribute anymore … as soon as the lockout begins, pretty much everything will come to a standstill.”

RÚV also noted that SA’s lockout would also have a major impact on oil companies’ service stations and lubrication and tire services, which the Efling strikes have thus far not disrupted.

Participation in lockouts “not optional”

SA issued a statement yesterday, stressing that the participation of companies in the lockout was not optional. The Confederation also published a list of exempt parties from the lockout that will be imposed on Efling members. These include all those who work in health and geriatric services, as well as the police, the fire brigade, ambulances, and search-and-rescue teams, in addition to civil defence and educational institutions.

As noted by Vísir: “In the event of a lockout, no one who works according to the collective agreements between SA and Efling may come to work unless they receive an exemption from SA’s executive board. Salary payments are cancelled during the lockout, as in the case of strikes, as stated on SA’s website.”

Not Paying Workers During Lockout is Sólveig’s Decision, Efling Vice-Chair Says

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

There are no regulations that prevent Efling Union from paying workers during the lockout set to begin on March 2, according to the union’s Vice-Chair Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska. The statement contrasts with previous assertions from the union’s Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, who has stated that Efling would not make payouts to workers in the case of a lockout. In a post on her Facebook page, Agnieszka stated not providing financial support to workers affected by the lockout would be Sólveig’s personal decision, and criticised Sólveig for being “willing to have her low-wage members suffer.”

The Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) has approved a lockout of some 20,000 workers set to begin on March 2, the latest escalation in a fraught collective agreement negotiation between SA and Efling. During the lockout, Efling workers would not be permitted to show up to their employment. As such, they would not receive wages, accrue leave, or receive pension payments. Efling is currently paying striking members from its labour dispute fund, but a notice from the union stated that it would not make payments in the case of a lockout. According to the notice, “the union does not hold responsibility for a lockout and the labour dispute fund cannot sustain such payments.”

“The members of Efling have the right to know that the rules of the union aren’t stopping their chairman from paying from the fund in the case of the [lockout],” Agnieszka wrote on Facebook. “Its just her decision.” Agnieszka added that paying workers affected by the lockout was the “right thing” to do.

Lockout Affecting 20,000 Workers in Iceland Approved

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson SA Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise

Members of the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) have approved a lockout of some 20,000 workers set to begin on March 2 at noon, RÚV reports. CEO of SA Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson has called it a “last resort” to force the conclusion of a collective agreement with Efling Union. Efling Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir says SA is using a lockout to force the government to step into the conflict.

Vast majority vote in favour of lockout

Nearly 88% of companies in SA voted on the lockout, with 94% voting in favour. During the lockout, Efling workers would not be permitted to show up to their employment. As such, they would not receive wages, accrue leave, or receive pension payments. Exceptions would be granted for workers in healthcare and other essential jobs, according to SA. Efling is Iceland’s second-largest union and the lockout would greatly impact the entire Icelandic economy.

In a press conference yesterday, Halldór Benjamín stated that the lockout was a response to Efling workers’ ongoing strikes, which led several hotels to temporarily close their doors. While those strikes are ongoing, Efling has postponed further strikes scheduled to begin on February 28, of additional workers in security companies, cleaning companies, and hotels.

Lockout is an attempt to involve government, Sólveig says

“This play is aimed at the government,” Efling Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir told RÚV when asked about the lockout. “Because Halldór Benjamín cannot make a collective agreement with Efling, he’s is waiting for the government to come and release him from the predicament he’s gotten into, and of course, we will wait and see if that happens.” Both Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Labour Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson have stated it is in SA and Efling’s hands to reach an agreement.

When asked whether the dispute could be resolved without government intervention, Sólveig answered: “I believe at this point in time that nothing is more obvious than the fact that SA does not intend and does not want to enter into a collective agreement with Efling.”

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.