Efling Chair Demands Labour Market MP Intercede, Withdraw State Mediator’s Proposal  

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

Efling Chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir is urging Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, to intercede in the labour union’s ongoing dispute with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and withdraw the mediation proposal that state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson issued at the end of last week. Sólveig Anna also wants Aðalsteinn to withdraw from the negotiation process entirely. RÚV reports.

See Also: State Mediator’s Proposal Meets with Criticism from Efling and SA

The proposal, which was issued in the wake of an “unprecedented” and extremely contentious round of negotiations, essentially consists of the same terms that SA has agreed upon with other unions.

Under normal circumstances, this proposal would be put to a vote among Efling’s members. Sólveig Anna has repeatedly described it as bad for workers, however, and as such has withheld the union’s electoral roll as a way of stalling the process and preventing a vote from taking place.

Aðalsteinn demanded that the electoral roll be handed over and referred the matter to the Reykjavík District Court, which will review the case on Monday morning.

In the meantime, Efling members have voted on whether the employees of Íslandshótel will strike. The results of this vote will be announced on Monday evening.

‘The situation the state mediator has created is intolerable’

In a post on her Facebook page on Saturday afternoon, Sólveig Anna said “the situation the state mediator has created with his conduct is intolerable,” and “will not be borne.” She then published the letter she sent to Guðmundur Ingi that same day, in which she pointed out that it is the Labour Minister who is responsible for appointing the state mediator and demanded a meeting to discuss the Minister’s intercession in the dispute prior to both the court hearing and Efling’s strike announcement.

“I emphasize to you that this is a grave and precedential matter that revolves around the legitimacy of institutions of entities within the labour market, the fundamental rights of workers, and the trust that working people will have in the official framework of labour market issues in the future,” Sólveig Anna wrote in her letter.

“I ask you not to underestimate the weight that the Efling labour union will put on the response to this issue and, depending on the circumstances, will direct at those institutions in the public sector that are responsible for it. I therefore appeal to you in your responsibility as Minister of the Labour Market to comply with my request for a meeting without delay.”

As of Sunday morning, Sólveig Anna had not received a response from the Minister but told reporters that she wants Guðmundur Ingi to push for the state mediator’s proposal to be withdrawn.

Asked if she also wants the Minister to remove Aðalsteinn Leifsson from his role as state mediator, Sólveig Anna replied that Efling’s leadership has already expressed its lack of confidence in Aðalsteinn as a mediator.

“I think it’s obvious at this stage, given how he’s acted toward us, that he can’t be a party to the dispute we’re now in.”

Efling Strike a Growing Possibility

Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, director of SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Employers, has expressed his pessimism at reaching a new contract with Efling.

Regarding the last counter-offer made by Efling, Halldór refrained from commenting directly to RÚV, but stated this morning: “We will see what happens, but I am not optimistic.”

In Focus: Wage Negotiations

In light of the difficulties, intervention by the state mediator is expected in the coming days.

Halldór further stated to RÚV: “Eighty thousand contracts around the nation have been recently concluded […] SA is now done negotiating with all the major trade unions. As stated, we cannot deviate from the contractual goals and outlines that are in the collective agreements, because then SA would be betraying the trust of these people around the country.”

Regarding a strike, Halldór emphasized the potential damage it could have, saying that it would be costly for both employers, employees, and society as a whole. However, Halldór said that he was “not ruling anything out.”

On the other side of the bargaining table, Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has accused SA of showing no willingness to negotiate.

Characterizing the latest contract negotiations as a “battle,” Sólveig recently said in an interview on RÁS 2, that “Efling’s negotiating committee cannot allow itself to be treated this way. We’ve shown a willingness to negotiate so at this point no one can claim that we’ve somehow given up the fight […] We understand the responsibility we bear. Our loyalty is to our union members.”

Read more about wage negotiations here.

Would-Be Terrorists Discussed Killing Minister Guðlaugur Þór

Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

The two men being held in police custody accused of planning a domestic terrorism attack in Iceland had reportedly discussed killing Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson – Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate.

The “first investigation of its kind” in Iceland

Four Icelandic men were arrested on September 21 suspected of “terrorist plots” against state institutions and civilians. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody. Last Friday, the District Court of Reykjavík approved the District Attorney’s request to extend their custody by four weeks.

According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. The men, both of whom are in their twenties, had reportedly discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration (which was held on October 1).

Politicians among would-be targets

Yesterday, RÚV reported that the suspects had also discussed killing Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate. The Chief of Police reportedly notified the Minister of the suspects’ intentions prior to calling the Minister in for questioning.

As reported on October 10, the suspects had also discussed targeting Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir and Gunnar Smári Egilsson, chairperson of the Socialist Party. The names of current and former Pirate Party politicians were also mentioned as possible targets.

The police have asked a psychiatrist to assess the earnestness of the remarks made by the men during private messages, with the suspects’ lawyers contending that the threats were empty. Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson has stated that this is the “first investigation of its kind” to be launched in Iceland.

Reports of Ongoing Staff Unhappiness, Bullying, and Misogyny in Lead-Up to Efling Election

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

The Efling labour union spent close to ISK 130 million [$1.04 million; € 909,063] on personnel-related matters during Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s four-year tenure as chairperson, RÚV reports. Forty out of 50 of the union’s employees (80%) resigned from their positions during the same timeframe.

These were among the findings summarized in a new report that the news agency prepared in collaboration with the union, at the request of board member Guðmundur Baldursson. Guðmundur is running to be the next chairperson of Efling, as is current vice-chair Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir, and Sólveig Anna, who resubmitted her candidacy for the position in late January.

See Also: Sólveig Anna Announces Candidacy for Efling Chair

According to the report, from 2018, when Sólveig Anna started as chair, to 2021, when she resigned following accusations of workplace bullying, Efling paid nearly ISK 14 million [$112,089; €97,899] in severance agreements. Around ISK 66 million [$528,422; € 461,524] was paid during departing employee’s notice periods, during which time they are not required to work. The report also shows that Efling spent ISK 48 million [$384,307; € 335,654] on long-term illness during the same timeframe.

All total, this comes to ISK 128 million [$1.02 million; € 895,077]. This figure does not account for additional costs related to services provided by psychologists and other specialists.

‘Sólveig Anna was in a position to change these things’

The day after the findings of the abovementioned report came out, an independent audit on the union’s workplace culture was made public. The audit was conducted by psychology and counselling centre Líf og sál in November and December 2021 and showed evidence that bullying and misogyny were endemic to the union’s workplace culture. The findings were based on interviews with all of the union’s employees.

Efling CEO Linda Dröfn Gunnarsdóttir said she was not surprised by the findings—the audit simply confirmed the experience that many of spoken of in the union’s workplace before.

Sólveig Anna declined to be interviewed on either report, although she received several requests from RÚV to comment. In a post on her Facebook page, however, she did comment that staffing costs in the Efling office were high and that when she started as chair, she was surprised by the perks that were afforded union office employees. She said high-wage employees had turned the union movement into a self-serving machine, with perks like free catered meals on a daily basis, costly trips abroad, and frequent and expensive gatherings during working hours.

Ólöf Helga objected to Sólveig Anna’s characterization of workplace excess in the union office saying she hadn’t observed any of the things named by the former chair and, moreover, that if Sólveig Anna had thought there was something self-serving about the way the union office was being run, she could have done something about it. “I think Sólveig Anna was in a position to change these things during the four years she was the chairperson of Efling, if she was so unhappy with them.”

Election next week will decide next chairperson and board

Efling is the second largest union in Iceland, with about 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Sólveig Anna became Efling’s chair in 2018 and led wage negotiations and strikes among City of Reykjavík employees and hotel workers calling for better wages and working conditions for low earners. More than half of Efling’s members are of foreign origin. (Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska, the current, interim chairperson is, in fact, the union’s first chair of foreign origin.)

Sólveig Anna has denied the allegations made against her, and after her resignation, union members stated, in another letter to the media, that what they had wanted was solutions–not resignations. According to RÚV, however, the news agency has sources within the union that say that some employees are worried about Sólveig Anna’s possible re-election as chair.

The Efling election, which will also decide the union’s board, will take place this coming week, from February 9 – 15.

Sólveig Anna Announces Candidacy for Efling Chair

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, who resigned as Efling’s Chairperson in October, has decided to resubmit her candidacy for the position, RÚV reports. Elections for a new board and chairperson will begin on February 9 and will end on February 15.

Resubmission of candidacy

In October of last year, Efling Union Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir resigned. Her departure followed on the heels of accusations of workplace bullying, as alleged by union staff in letters of no-confidence to her, the union, and Icelandic media.

Sólveig Anna subsequently denied the allegations, and after her resignation, union members stated, in another letter to the media, that what they had wanted was solutions – and not resignations.

Following these events, Efling voted in its first chair of foreign origin (on a short-term basis): Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska, who previously served as vice-chair of the union.

“Numerous encouraging messages”

Elections for a new board and chairperson will commence on February 9 and will end on February 15. So far, two other candidates have announced their intentions to run: Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir, Efling’s current vice-chair, and Guðmundur Baldursson, Efling board member.

In an interview with RÚV, Sólveig Anna remarked that she had decided to submit her candidacy in light of the “numerous encouraging messages” that she had received from union members. Despite these positive messages, Sólveig added that her decision had required careful deliberation: “I still spent a lot of time weighing the prospect, but in the end, having discussed it with good people, we reached this conclusion.”

Sólveig Anna will be campaigning under the banner of Baráttulistinn (the Fight List), and states that she is prepared for the campaign: “I’m certainly ready for the fight. Since I first assumed chair of the union, in 2018, I’ve been prepared to fight. Efling has made tremendous strides; we managed to transform this colossal bureaucracy, which enabled the continuation of low-wage policies, into the most powerful tool wielded by Icelandic workers.”

Iceland’s second largest labour union

As noted in an article in Iceland Review last year, Efling is Iceland’s second-largest labour union, with around 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Sólveig Anna became Efling’s chair in 2018 and led wage negotiations and strikes among City of Reykjavík employees and hotel workers calling for better wages and working conditions for low earners. More than half of Efling’s members are of foreign origin.