Four of Six Capital Area Mayors Not Up for Reelection

Big leadership changes will take place in the Reykjavík capital area in Iceland’s upcoming municipal elections. RÚV reports that four out of the six current mayors in the region will not be running. Municipal elections will be held across the country on May 14, 2022, and local and municipal council members in Iceland are now making up their minds on whether or not to run for another term. Both citizens of Iceland, as well as residents of Iceland who have lived in the country for five years or longer, can vote in municipal elections.

In the capital area, the mayors of Kópavogur (Ármann Kr. Ólafsson), Setjarnarnes (Ásgerður Halldórsdóttir), Garðabær (Gunnar Einarsson), and Mosfellsbær (Haraldur Sveinsson), have all announced that they will not be running in the May election. All four have been mayor in their respective municipality for over a decade, signalling a significant change of leadership for the region. Rekjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson announced earlier this month that he would be running for reelection, as will Rósa Guðbjartsdóttir, current mayor of Hafnarfjörður.

Foreign residents of Iceland who do not hold Icelandic citizenship but have lived in the country for five years or longer have the right to vote in municipal elections. Most information on voting requirements will be available as elections approach.

Iceland’s Museum of Natural History Finds Permanent Home

Icelandic Museum of Natural History

Iceland’s Museum of Natural History is set to get permanent housing after 130 years of waiting. The museum has signed a contract which will enable them to move the museum to Seltjarnarnes to a building that has been more than 20 years in the making. The plan is to open the museum in the spring of 2023.

130-year wait for a museum Building

While Iceland’s Museum of Natural History in its current form was founded in 2007, its history can be traced back to 1889 when the Icelandic society of Natural sciences was founded. One of the Society’s founding goals was to open a museum of natural history in Iceland. They started a collection and ran a museum for almost 60 years. In 1947, they donated the collection to the government along with funds intended to go towards building a permanent home for a museum of natural history. This became the foundation for the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, an agency of the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources, but the building never saw the light of day. The collection was on display in rented buildings that weren’t up to modern standards for museums. In 2007, a new institution was founded to take care of the collection dating back to 1889, a museum, separate from the government agency. Even then, it consisted of offices and storage space, with no exhibition space. Its collection has never had a permanent residence although a part of its collection is on display in the exhibition The Water in Icelandic Nature in Perlan.Icelandic Museum of Natural History

Yrki Arkitektar

A building 20 years in the making

Now, the museum has signed a contract with authorities allowing them to use a building in Seltjarnarnes, close to Grótta. Originally built to house a medical museum, the building’s been empty since its exterior was finished in 2007. The building’s story goes back a long time as well. Architects Ásdís Helga Ágústsdóttir and Sólveig Berg’ design won an open design contest for a medical museum in Setljarnares in 1997. Winning the contest allowed them to start their own architect firm, now more than 20 years old, but in all that time, the building remained unfinished. Cost of construction turned out to be higher than anticipated, and the municipality and government disagreed over which party should shoulder the added costs. For years, the building stood empty and unused, although the municipality at one point advertised it for sale on the open market. “I couldn’t even walk past it anymore,” says Ásdís, one of the building’s architects. “It was so hard to see it unfinished for all these years.”

While the medical museum has yet to open, the building will now be completed and altered slightly to fit the needs of the Natural History Museum. The State Treasury made a deal with the municipality of Seltjarnarnes to take over the building, a part of an investment program to combat the economic effects of the global pandemic. Ásdís is optimistic that the building will suit the needs of the new museum. “Even if the building was intended to house a medical museum, we designed it to complement the nature that surrounds it. It’s a low building that fits perfectly in the low, flat landscape and the sea line beyond it, enveloped by the soft hill that surrounds it. It’s an organic creation, with soft curves intended to indicate the curves of the human body, but that will suit the museum of natural history just as well.”

Even though the building is low, there’s more to it than the eye registers at first. “Underneath the surface is a spacious level with plenty of height, perfect for exhibitions,” Ásdís says. The low roof also offers beautiful views of the nature that surrounds it, with specially designed windbreakers that will provide a break from the Seltjarnarnes winds. “We spent a lot of time figuring out the wind direction patterns so that people will be able to enjoy the view in perfect stillness,” says Ásdís, who’s been waiting more than twenty years to see her firm’s first creation completed.Icelandic Museum of Natural History

Yrki Arkitektar

A suitable home

Now, this one of Iceland’s principal museum will finally get a satisfactory home. “We’ve waited for a long time, 130 years,” stated Hilmar L. Malmquist, Director of the Icelandic Museum of Natural History. “We’ve never had our own building, not for exhibitions, or any of our other work so this is long-awaited. The location is excellent, this close to the nature, the ocean, Bakkatjörn lake and signs of human habitation. It will be fascinating to work with.”

The building has high ceilings and plenty of space, but Hilmar already has eyes on expanding. “It will do to start with; it’s 1,360 sqm (14,639 sq ft). But the nation is growing, and we’ll have plenty of tourists once the pandemic has passed, so it’s foreseeable that we will have to expand relatively soon. The blueprints already exist,” said Hilmar.

In addition to the building, the museum will receive a budget of 1.2-1.3 billion ISK to complete it and adapt it to their needs. “It’s been empty for years and needs upkeep. But that budget also includes foundational expenses for our permanent exhibition.” Hilmar has set an ambitious timeline for the museum’s opening: “We’ll have it ready in a relatively short time. We plan to get to work quickly and hopefully we’ll be able to move our operations here and open in spring of 2023,” Hilmar stated.

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.

Preparations for New Refugee Arrivals Going Well

Twenty-five quota refugees are expected to arrive in the capital area in the next month and preparations for their arrival are well underway, RÚV reports.

The towns of Garðabær and Mosfellsbær will both welcome ten refugees each and five will be moving to Seltjarnarnes. (One of the newcomers has already arrived and is getting settled in Seltjarnarnes.) The refugees are arriving from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

Building on experience in Mosfellsbær

“We, the staff of the town of Mosfellsbær, are excited about the refugees’ arrival and things are going well,” said Unnur V. Ingólfsdóttir, director of Mosfellsbær’s family division. She continued that “…[P]eople in town [are] eager and positive about the arrival of the refugees.”

Unnur also said that preparations are easier this year because staff already has experience resettling refugees; Mosfellsbær welcomed ten people from Uganda last year. The most complicated part of the process is, as it was last year, finding housing for the new residents, but town officials are in the process of locating accommodations.

 

First time for resettlements in Garðabær

This is the first time that refugees will be resettling in the town of Garðabær. Ragna Dögg Þorsteinsdóttir, the project manager responsible for the refugees’ reception there, said that there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of, such as ensuring the new arrivals have access to both physical and mental health services. Then, of course, housing needs to be found and financial assistance made available while people are getting their feet under them in the community. Nevertheless, Ragna said that work opportunities would be plentiful for the refugees in Garðabær, and previous resettlement experience in places such as Mosfellsbær has shown that refugees are quick to find work after arriving in Iceland.

There are a lot of things that newcomers to Iceland have to adjust to, says Ragna, not least learning a new language and getting used to the weather and long, dark winters. But people are also more insular in Iceland than they often are in the countries that the refugees are coming from and in Iceland, and the new arrivals don’t have the benefit of a whole social support network of old friends and family.

Garðabær residents have a good attitude about their soon-to-be neighbors’ arrival, says Ragna. Mayor Gunnar Einarsson seconded this, saying that people are “generally positive” about welcoming the refugees.