Collective Agreement Signed, Avoiding Strike and Lockout

VR Union. VR Chairman Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson and SA CEO Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir shake on the new collective agreement, March 2024

VR Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) signed a four-year collective agreement just after midnight last night, RÚV reports. The airport workers’ strike proposed by VR Union and the lockout proposed by SA have therefore been called off. VR Union’s chair Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson stated that the agreement is acceptable given the circumstances, but that the matter is not over yet.

“It’s been a long and hard period for us and it’s very gratifying that we’ve gotten this long-term collective agreement,” stated Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir, CEO of SA. The two parties signed an agreement based on a proposal submitted by the State Mediator yesterday. “The mediator submitted an internal proposal that was based on a certain special wage agreement resulting from the main wage agreement that we were finalising and which the negotiating committees of both parties agreed to,” Sigríður added.

Shift changes for airport workers

She stated that the wage hikes for VR Union members are the same as those that have been agreed on with other unions. They include a general percentage-based increase of 3.25% this year and 3.5% for the next three years.

Ragnar stated that the agreement includes an article on changing the shift schedule for Keflavík Airport workers, the group that had been set to strike later this month if an agreement had not been reached. Changes to the group’s shift schedule are to be agreed on by December 20 with the help of the State Mediator.

Last major signing in a series of negotiations

The collective agreement between VR and SA was the last of a series of collective agreements being negotiated on the Icelandic labour market for the coming years. VR Union also signed a collective agreement this morning with the Icelandic Federation of Trade (Félag atvinnurekenda) with terms similar to those of their agreement with SA.

New Collective Agreements Could Be Signed Today

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Tens of thousands of workers in Iceland may have new collective agreements this afternoon, RÚV reports. Unions within the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Iceland Enterprise (SA) are set to sign an agreement at 5:00 PM this afternoon. There are, however, still a few wrinkles to be ironed out regarding the participation of municipalities.

Union leaders expressed optimism yesterday that a deal would be made today. The Chairman of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), however, stated this morning that the union would not sign the agreement unless all municipalities in Iceland agreed to subsidise school meals. “Simply because this particular measure is a huge measure in the path we’re taking. It is an ISK 5 billion [$36.6 million, €33.6 million] measure, and the state is contributing ISK 4 billion to subsidise school meals, and the local authorities are supposed to contribute ISK 1 billion,” stated Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of SGS.

SGS represents some 44,000 workers in Iceland. Efling Union, which is also a part of the agreement set to be signed today, represents around 27,000 workers. VR, Iceland’s largest union by membership, is not a party to the collective agreement set to be signed this afternoon but continues negotiations with SA today.

Efling Union Workers to Vote on Strike

Strike efling hotel workers union

Janitorial staff in Efling Union will vote on strike action starting this Monday. If approved, cleaners in the Reykjavík capital area would strike on March 18. Efling representatives say the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) breached trust in ongoing collective agreement negotiations by reopening salary negotiations with other unions.

Efling is Iceland’s second-largest worker’s union. Efling’s negotiating committee did not attend a meeting at the State Mediator’s office yesterday and are not expected to attend today’s meeting between negotiating parties. Efling representatives assert that SA offered other unions with the Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) higher salary hikes than previously negotiated without consulting with Efling.

Read More: Unions Split on Wage Negotiations

If approved, the strike would involve around 1,000 workers, according to Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Efling.

Shaky Restart to Icelandic Wage Negotiations

State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson

The first meeting in nearly two weeks between Icelandic unions and Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) was cut short yesterday, RÚV reports. The meeting began at 9:00 AM and was the first meeting since unions suspended negotiations nearly two weeks ago, calling them fruitless. The parties are meeting again today.

SA is demanding a four-year collective agreement be signed. Unions say they have agreed to the demand but ask for a clause in return that would give them a way out of the agreement if inflation and interest rate targets are not met. SA would not agree to such a clause, which was the reason negotiations were suspended.

The parties have reportedly already reached an agreement regarding salaries.

It is less than a year since the last collective agreement negotiations between SA and Efling Union were concluded after a tense and drawn-out negotiation period that involved strike actions. Unions have called on businesses and the government to take more concrete action to fight the high inflation and high interest rates that are impacting Icelandic households.

Wage Negotiations Advance, Media Ban Imposed

State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson

Union and business representatives have restarted wage negotiations after a break of almost a week, Vísir reports. The parties have agreed on a basis for the negotiations, according to State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson. One union leader said IKEA’s price reductions are a good contribution to the negotiations.

Media ban imposed

The negotiations impact the working conditions of some 93% of workers on the general labour market in Iceland. After signs of progress in the negotiations appeared, Ástráður banned all parties from speaking with the media, a move often instituted when an agreement seems nigh.

Price reductions and freezes a positive contribution

Vilhjálmur Birgisson, Chairman of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland, did, however, speak to a Vísir reporter on the price reductions announced by IKEA in Iceland, calling them a positive contribution to the negotiations. The reductions could help in bringing down inflation and interest rates, “which are making Icelandic households miserable,” he stated.

Vilhjálmur pointed out that BYKO has also decided to freeze prices for six months, and encouraged other businesses to follow the two companies’ example.

Efling and SA Negotiations Over: “No Choice But to Accept”

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Fréttablaðið reports that Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has accepted the most recent mediation proposal.

Voting closed today, March 8, for the latest off in the prolonged negotiation between Eflind trade union and SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise.

Read more: Results on New Mediating Proposal Expected Soon

With voting closed, preliminary results indicate that a majority of Efling members voted in favour of the proposal. Among other benefits, the average monthly wage of Efling employees will increase by about ISK 42,000 ($295; €280), an increase of about 11%. The contract will be retroactively valid through November of last year, and valid until January 2024.

“The result is in line with what I and my colleagues in the negotiation committee had counted on. I have been in contact with a number of members and conveyed the message to them that both I and the negotiation committee had no other choice in the situation but to agree to this mediation proposal,” Sólveig Anna stated to Fréttablaðið. She continued: “Of course, I fully understand that Efling members want this to end. It’s clear it wasn’t possible to get a better deal.”

According to Fréttablaðið, some 22.8% of Efling members took part in the vote. Of those, 84% voted to accept the latest proposal.

 

 

Vote on New Mediating Proposal Closing, Results Expected Soon

A vote on the temporarily-appointed state mediator’s new proposal will end at 10 AM today. The results of the vote are expected to be in shortly thereafter.

Results expected shortly after voting closes

On March 1, temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference to announce that representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling union had agreed to vote on his new mediating proposal. While voting took place, all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts were to be postponed.

Voting began at noon, Friday, March 3, and it is set to conclude at 10 AM this morning.

As previously noted, the new wage agreement between Efling and SA, as provided by the proposal, would be fully retroactive from November 1, 2022, and salary increases would be tantamount to those stipulated in agreements signed by other unions. The contract would, however, differ in two respect from other similar contracts: a new job title for general hotel staff (i.e. almennt starfsfólk gistihúsa) would be created and drivers of the oil companies and Samskip would receive additional hazard pay.

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, has stated that she would vote in favour of the proposal.

The website of the Office of the State Mediator notes that the wage rates in the main collective agreement will increase between ISK 35,000 ($246 / €233) and ISK 52,258 ($368 / €349) ISK per month, the average increase being about ISK 42,000 ($295 / €280). The relative increase in wage rates is between 9.5% and 13%, with the average increase being over 11%.

This article will be updated.

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.