State Mediator Not Fearful of Losing Unions’ Trust

Aðalsteinn Leifsson

The state mediator does not fear that he has lost the trust of the unions, despite the reaction to his mediating proposal in the dispute between the Efling Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), RÚV reports. The proposal was submitted as a result of unprecedentedly tough negotiations.

Efling refuses to submit electoral roll

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson does not fear that his mediation proposal in the dispute between the Efling Union and SA may have permanently damaged the office’s relationship with the unions – despite the recent condemnations.

“I listen to the comments that are made about my work, but I reiterate my point that I submitted this proposal after careful consideration,” Aðalsteinn told RÚV today.

The proposal puts the same agreement that SA previously agreed upon by other unions to a vote among members of Efling. Efling’s Chair, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, has repeatedly described it as bad for workers. In order for the state mediator to oversee the vote, he needs an electoral roll (a list of Efling members eligible to vote) – which Efling’s Chair does not intend to hand over.

“By refusing to hand over the electoral roll, Efling is standing in the way of members being able to vote on the proposal. If we do not receive the list, we must explore alternative options,” Aðalsteinn stated.

An “unprecedented” round of negotiations

When Aðalsteinn presented his proposal at a press conference yesterday, he stated that the reason for the proposal was the “unprecedented situation” that had arisen in the negotiations. As noted by RÚV, however, strikes have been employed throughout the years without any attempt to avert them with a mediating proposal.

According to Aðalsteinn, what makes the situation “unprecedented” is not the prospect of strikes, but because of the “unprecedented” nature of the negotiations.

“This dispute stands out in that it has been extremely difficult to get any kind of conversation about possible solutions going,” he concluded.

Nicotine Products to Be Banned in Schools

A new parliamentary bill by Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson recommends the addition of nicotine products (including nicotine pouches) to a law on e-cigarettes and e-liquids, Vísir reports. The aim of the bill is to decrease the use of nicotine pouches by children and young adults.

Flavours appealing to children to be banned

In a new parliamentary bill, Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson proposes an amendment to Act No. 87/2018 on Electronic Cigarettes and Refill Containers for Electronic Cigarettes. Among changes to the legislation is a ban on the import, manufacture, and sale of nicotine products and e-cigarettes containing flavours that may appeal to children (such as candy and fruit).

According to a report appended to the bill, the purpose of the ban is to decrease the use of nicotine products among children and young adults: research has shown that flavouring, especially fruit and candy, play a significant role in the popularity of e-cigarettes among children and young adults.

“It is logical to assume that the same holds for the popularity of nicotine pouches,” the report notes.

Banning nicotine products in educational institutions

The new bill also proposes a ban on the sale of nicotine products in preschools, elementary schools, junior colleges, and other educational facilities associated with sports, daycare, recreation, and social events for children and young adults. Universities are not included on the list.

The bill places particular emphasis on educating children and young adults within elementary and junior colleges on the risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes and nicotine products; and on educating responsible parties in pedagogy, education, and healthcare.

Stricter Social Restrictions Proposed Amid Rising Cases

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller

Yesterday, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason submitted a proposal on new COVID measures to Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir. Although she declined to comment on the specifics, the Minister confirmed to Mbl.is that Þórólfur has advised that the authorities move to tighten social restrictions.

A record-number of infections?

One hundred forty-four new COVID cases were reported yesterday, the highest number of infections since August 4 of this year. Seventeen people are in hospital, thereof five in intensive care.

These cases are not confined to the Reykjavík area; following a cluster of infections in Akranes and Sangerði, local authorities have decided to close schools and postpone recreational activities in the area.

In light of numerous cases, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason submitted a proposal on new COVID measures to Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir yesterday. Speaking to Mbl.is, the Minister stated that authorities would be reviewing Þórólfur’s suggestion at a cabinet meeting this morning.

“Yes, it concerns tightening restrictions. We know what measures can be taken when infections are rising, and that’s what the cabinet will discuss tomorrow,” Svandís stated in an interview with Mbl.is yesterday. The Minister confirmed that Þórólfur’s proposal solely concerned domestic restrictions as opposed to measures to be taken on the border.

Asked if she was concerned about the apparent dwindling of solidarity when it comes to proposed domestic restrictions, Svandís refused to say: “Only time will tell, of course. In conjunction with these measures, we’ll be launching a campaign of booster shots, which will hopefully increase immunity among the populace.”

According to the Minister, the primary aim of the proposed restrictions is to protect the hospital and the healthcare system. “Like all nations struggling against this new wave of the pandemic, it’s about protecting the lives and the health of citizens and preventing the curve from rising too sharply so that the system can continue to provide adequate service.”

Svandís added that easing all domestic social restrictions on November 18 was not realistic: “I think it’s apparent to all of us that the infections are spreading too quickly now.”

A historic proposal

In an interview with Rás 2 this morning, Svandís Svavarsdóttir observed that even more COVID cases had been diagnosed yesterday and would be reported today.

“We know that with the Delta variant, we can expect a hospitalization rate of ca. 2%, with a proportion of that percentage requiring intensive care. We know, given the statistics, what we are dealing with.”

Svandís added that the National University Hospital could handle approximately 40-50 infections a day; in light of the government’s most recent removal of social restrictions, however, the curve is rising too fast for the healthcare system to cope.

Finally, Svandís referred to Þórólfur’s new proposal as “historic;” in the memo, he traces the origin of the pandemic in Iceland and reviews the measures that have been taken. Þórólfur also discusses what has worked and what hasn’t, arguing that the authorities must move switftly to enact tighter restrictions: the aim being to flatten the curve back to approximately 40-50 new infections a day. The measures, according to Svandís, involve placing limits on public gathering, mask mandates, and restrictions on the operation hours of business.

New Proposal Calls for Overhaul of Avalanche Barriers

Flateyri after avalanche

According to a new government proposal, improvements to avalanche barriers will be made in ten different places in Iceland over the next ten years, RÚV reports. The plan aims to finalise avalanche protection in densely populated at-risk areas.

Plan of Action

Last week, the government introduced a new plan for strengthening Iceland’s infrastructure. The proposal comes in the wake of an exceptionally inclement winter; two storms battered Iceland in December and February, revealing weaknesses in Iceland’s energy grid and telecommunications system, among other things. Three avalanches also swept through the Westfjords in January, exposing deficiencies in local avalanche barriers.

Avalanche Protection

The new government proposal aims to finalise avalanche protection in Iceland; the avalanches that struck Flateyri and Súgandafjörður in January highlighted the fact that resources from the Landslide Fund had over the years been employed for other purposes and that avalanche protection had been lagging. The plan calls for the finalisation of avalanche protection by the year 2030.

Over the next five years, improvements will be made to avalanche barriers in Patreksfjörður, Hnífsdalur, Flateyri, Siglufjörður, Seyðisfjörður, Neskaupstaður, and Eskifjörður. Between 2025 and 2030, construction in Flateyri and Siglufjörður will be completed while work will be continued in the areas mentioned above, including Tálknafjörður, Bíldudalur, and Ólafsvík.

If the timeline holds, the strengthening of avalanche barriers in densely populated at-risk area will be completed 25 years earlier than initially expected, the government’s website states.