Fish Processing Facility Closed, Dozens Laid Off

thorlakshofn iceland

A fish processing facility in the small southern town of Þorlákshöfn will be closed down. Vestmannaeyjar-based Ísfélagið, the oldest fishing operation in the country, will lay off their entire workforce in Þorlákshöfn this year, a total of 35 people, Mbl.is reports.

Blow to the community

In recent decades, several towns that rely on the fishing industry have seen facilities shut down or jobs moved away. Gestur Þór Kristjánsson, a councilman in Ölfus, the municipality Þorlákshöfn is a part of, said that the town is built around fishing and seafood processing and that Ísfélagið closing their facility is a blow to the community.

“We think it’s sad that a company like this is leaving the community,” he said. “This was one of the biggest fisheries operations in Þorlákshöfn.”

Hope for new jobs

Ísfélagið laid off 9 people in Þorlákshöfn earlier this year and the remaining 26 staff members learned on Wednesday that they should expect to be laid off. Most of them are residents of Þorlákshöfn. “I hope they get new jobs here,” said Gestur. “There is not a lot of unemployment here, so hopefully they can keep working here. They have worked here for a long time and have roots in the community.”

Director of Ísfélagið Stefán Friðriksson said that the foundation of their Þorlákshöfn processing disappeared after lobster fishing was stopped in 2021 in order to conserve the lobster population. Ísfélagið has operations remaining in Vestmannaeyjar in the south of Iceland, Siglufjörður in the north, and Þórshöfn in the northeast.

Lava Could Reach Reykjanes Roadway If It Rises Any Higher

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

It’s possible that lava from the ongoing eruption in Meradalir could flow eastward in the next 24 hours, RÚV reports. Professor of Geophysics Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson says that if this were to happen, the lava would have a direct path to Rte. 427. Also called Suðurstrandavegur, this road runs along the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula between the municipalities of Grindavík and Ölfus.

Magnús Tumi notes that the lava hasn’t yet started flowing out of Meradalir. “However, in the last two days, the lava by the mountain pass, which is the lowest point out of the valley to the east, has risen seven to eight metres [23-26 feet]. And it will only take maybe a metre or so for it to overflow. So if the situation continues like this, the lava will overflow the valley soon.”

It’s difficult to say if the lava would actually reach Suðurstrandavegur, says Magnús Tumi. “But in order to be able to estimate any sort of timeline, it’s vital that we be able to take new measurements of the lava volume and thereby the flow.” Unfortunately, ongoing weather conditions since Thursday have prevented scientists from taking these critical measurements.

Construction Begins on Largest Residential Neighborhood Outside of the Capital Area

thorlakshofn iceland

Construction began on a new residential neighbourhood in the south coast village of Þorlákshöfn last week. Vísir reports that the neighbourhood, christened Móabyggð, will home 450 residents in 78 apartments and, when completed, will be the biggest housing development in South Iceland—and possibly the whole country, outside of the capital area.

According to an announcement about the project, the apartments will be two to four rooms, ranging from 60 to 95 m2 [645 — 1022 ft2]. The buildings, which will have poured concrete construction, will be built on site, have external insulation, and aluminium cladding. The 78 apartments will be configured in 11 low-rise apartment buildings connected by ‘eco-streets,’ which—with an eye to the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels—will feature charging stations to allow people to charge electric vehicles. Eco-friendly materials will also be used in the buildings’ construction.

The apartments will not be uniform, but rather will have varied construction and offer many of the same advantages of freestanding, single-family homes. The neighbourhood’s location was chosen with the needs of residents in mind, close to all major services such as health care, kindergartens and schools, gyms, and the swimming pool.

Þorlákshöfn is located on the southern coast of Iceland in the municipality of Ölfus, just under an hour away from Reykjavík. It currently has 1,847 residents and is an important working harbour with a ferry that runs back and forth from the Westman Islands. Its primary industries are fish processing and ship-outfitting, as well tourist services.

In the coming years, Þorlákshöfn authorities plan to attract more ship traffic to their harbour with an expansion that would accommodate larger ships. Fish farming on land is also a growing industry in the municipality.

Efling Union and Municipalities Reach Agreement, Ending Strike

Fellaskóli school

A workers’ strike in Iceland that began on March 9, was suspended on March 24, and restarted on May 5, is now finally over. Efling Union and the municipalities of Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Ölfus, and Hveragerði have signed a collective contract that raises the lowest salaries of union members working for the municipalities. The strike affected preschools and primary schools in the municipalities, many of which were required to close when cleaning staff walked off the job.

According to a notice from Efling, the new contract increases base monthly salaries by ISK 90,000 ($613/€566) over the duration of the contract period and shortens the work week. The new contract also raises the lowest salaries “with a special additional payment modelled on Efling’s contract with Reykjavík City.”

Efling workers employed by the six municipalities returned to work today, though the contract remains subject to a vote by members.

Strike postponed due to COVID-19

The workers’ strike in the five municipalities began on March 9, after negotiations between Efling and the municipalities proved unsuccessful. The union’s negotiation committee had postponed strike action during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but announced that the strike would be voted on again after Easter. Efling members voted to resume the strike on May 5. Efling’s main demand was an agreement with benefits comparable to those that had recently been won for the union’s members working for the City of Reykjavík.

“Once again Efling members […] have proven that just and determined struggle of low wage workers through their union is not only our right but also something that achieves results,” stated Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

Efling Workers Resume Strike Next Week, Affecting Schools

Efling strike Reykjavík

Efling Union workers employed by five municipalities in the capital area and South Iceland will resume striking on Tuesday, May 5. The members working for the municipalities of Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus voted overwhelmingly in support of strike action. The union’s negotiation committee postponed strike action during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but announced that the strike would be voted on again after Easter.

“The members of Efling who work for these municipalities demand an agreement with comparable benefits as those found in agreements between Efling and the City of Reykjavik and the government of Iceland,” reads a statement on Efling’s website. Efling members working for the City of Reykjavík reached an agreement with the municipality last month following a three-week strike that affected preschools and welfare services in the capital.

All members of Efling Union working for the five municipalities will stop work indefinitely on Tuesday, May 5, the day after COVID-19 restrictions are loosened and schools return from reduced to regular programming. The strike will affect elementary schools and home services.

Voter turnout among Efling members was high, with 65% of eligible members voting on the strike. A notable 89% voted in favour of a strike in elementary schools and 88% voted in favour of a strike in other workplaces.

“These are incredible results. They show amazing courage, the will to fight and the unity of our members. Low wage workers are going to get the recognition that society cannot function without them. Pandemic or not – The members of Efling will not allow themselves to be forced into submission,” said Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chairman of Efling.

Negotiations Postponed in Workers’ Strikes

Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

A negotiation meeting between the Efling labour union and municipal leaders in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus was postponed on Thursday, RÚV reports. The postponement came at the request of municipal negotiations committee chair Inga Rún Ólafsdóttir, who said the committee needed more time to do their homework in advance of the meeting.

See Also: Strikes Outside of Reykjavík Anticipated for Monday

Over 270 Efling workers in the abovementioned municipalities went on strike on Monday, overlapping with a three-week strike of Efling city employees in Reykjavík. While Reykjavík-based municipal employees reached an agreement with the City of Reykjavík on Tuesday, however, negotiations are still underway with workers outside of the capital. The strike has impacted schools in all of the striking municipalities, as well as services in government offices such as the Directorate of Immigration, which is located in Kópavogur.

See Also: Workers’ Strikes Update: One Avoided, One Begins, One Continues

According to the state mediator’s website, the next meeting between Efling and municipal leaders is scheduled for this coming Monday. “We’re waiting and stress that a meeting should be held as soon as possible,” said Efling chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir. “In our opinion, it’s unacceptable to go into the weekend without meeting.” Efling negotiators said they understood that people need more time to consider the terms and issues on the table, but is nevertheless pushing for talks to continue on Friday.

Strikes Outside of Reykjavík Anticipated for Monday

An indefinite strike of Efling members in municipalities outside of Reykjavík is set to start on Monday, March 9 at noon, “unless agreements have been signed before that time,” reads an announcement on the Efling website. According to Efling director Viðar Þorsteinsson, however, even though additional meetings between the union and local councils are scheduled for the weekend, there’s no indication that any agreement will be reached in time to prevent Efling members in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus from joining the ongoing strike action currently underway in Reykjavík, Mbl.is reports.

A sympathy strike among workers in the Federation of Independent Schools in Iceland was also proposed for Monday, but Iceland’s Labour Court deemed the action illegal and Efling has stated that it “accepts the ruling and will not proceed with the strike.”

Just as the ongoing strike action has significantly impacted public services in Reykjavík, so will Monday’s strike significantly impact public services in the soon-to-strike municipalities. An announcement on the Kópavogur website said that the impact of the strike would be particularly felt in elementary schools, where cleaning services, after-school programming, and support for children with special needs will be significantly curtailed.

The Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL), which is also located in Kópavogur, also posted an announcement on its website, saying that services will be reduced and application processing will slow during the strike. The ÚTL office will be closed on March 9 and 10, “as well as other days during which the strike is in progress.” Telephone services will only be available between 9 and 12 with minimum staffing during the strike. ÚTL recommends that those who need to be in touch with their office do so via email, but should also expect slower replies.

Efling met again with City representatives on Friday afternoon, but no agreements were struck and no new meeting has been scheduled. “The ball’s in the City’s court now,” said Viðar.

Update March 9, 2020: BSRB members’ strike actions were called off after agreements were reached last night and this morning. Efling Union members in five municipalities outside Reykjavík began their strike at noon today.

Seek Energy for 50 Hectare Greenhouse

A huge greenhouse Paradise Farm is planning to build in Ölfus, Southwest Iceland, would need 150 megawatts of electricity for its operations, Vísir reports. Paradise Farm is backed by foreign investors, who hope to construct a 50-hectare greenhouse for growing vegetables and fruit, with an emphasis on export.

Paradise Farms plans to start operations with 10 hectares under glass, eventually expanding to 50 hectares. The 150 megawatts required to power such a greenhouse are equivalent to the capacity of Blanda Power Station in North Iceland.

“People are quite interested,” stated Gunnar Þorgeirsson, chairperson of the Union of Horticultural Farmers and one of the people behind Paradise Farms, when asked about reception of the project among energy companies. “There is quite a lot of energy in the system, it’s just a question of where it can be used,” adding that there are still technical issues that need to be solved in terms of how energy would be transported to the greenhouse and that it would require considerable investment.

Even small greenhouses produce considerable light pollution. Gunnar says Paradise Farms would aim to minimise that with the use of screens above the lights. Otherwise, he says, no pollution would result from the operations.

“In the new stations there is a circulation system so that the same fertiliser water is always used and not put out into nature.” Excess warm water from the greenhouse could be used in on land fish farms, which there is some interest in setting up in the area. Then we need to work on converting the carbon dioxide that comes from Hellisheiði Power Station into carbon that we can use for cultivation and make the power station more environmentally friendly along the way.”

Reykjadalur May Become Protected Area

Municipal authorities are considering whether to designate Reykjadalur, a geothermal area in South Iceland, protected status, RÚV reports. Famed for its “hot river” in which you can bathe, the area has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, but has had to be closed by the Environment Agency on occasion when the high level of foot traffic has caused significant damage to the area. This is a particular risk in the wet season.

Reykjadalur is located just above the town of Hveragerði, but the land is actually part of the Ölfus municipality. The mayors of both locations met in late September to discuss the possibility of protection status for the area. Following this meeting he Environmental Agency of Iceland sent the mayors a letter asking for them to make their position on this matter known. The Environment Agency also asked that the local governments appoint a representative to join a land conservation consultation team, which they have since done.

Per the minutes of the town council meeting, it appears that the local governments are in favor of the idea of designating Reykjadalur a protected area. It’s clear that foot traffic has increased dramatically in the area in recent years and has had a profound effect on the environment. Just this spring, for instance, the area had to be closed for six weeks.