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.

Parents to Association of Local Authorities: “Negotiate Now”

Wage negotiations

Parents affected by the ongoing BSRB strikes organised a protest at the headquarters of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) this morning, RÚV reports. No progress has been made in the talks between BSRB and SÍS.

Talks remain at a standstill

Widespread strikes in 29 municipalities by members of BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – are still in full swing. The strikes extend to staff in preschools, swimming pools, sports facilities, service centres, town offices, utility houses, and harbours; and include approximately 2,500 BSRB members and affect the activities of about 70 preschools.

According to Elísabet Ólafsdóttir, assistant state mediator, the situation is being regularly assessed. Elísabet told RÚV that there was “no reason to call the disputing parties into a meeting” since it was considered unlikely to be successful. Inga Rún Ólafsdóttir, Chair of SÍS’ negotiation committee, agreed with Elísabet’s assessment: there was still a significant gap between the negotiation parties’ demands.

Chair of BSRB, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir – who also concurred with the aforementioned view – told RÚV that there had been several reports of strike violations and that BSRB is investigating the validity of these claims; BSRB is currently reviewing whether it will take the municipality Snæfellsbær in West Iceland to Labour Court for strike violations.

“Negotiate – it’s not complicated”

Given this state of affairs between BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS), frustrated parents arrived at the premises of SÍS at 10 am this morning to protest, RÚV reports.

Astrid Jóhanna Kristjánsdóttir, Erla Þórdís Traustadóttir, Esther María Ragnarsdóttir, Birgitta Ragnarsdóttir, and Indiana Rós Ægisdóttir organised the protest, which was attended by approximately 100 people. The organisers are requesting that the conflicting parties negotiate immediately, given that the situation in preschools is “unacceptable.”

“These are some of our most important workers. The towns would be nothing without them. If the towns are nothing without them, we can’t go to work,” Esther told RÚV. When asked if preschool services had been curtailed, Esther replied in the affirmative, explaining that staff had only been allowed to attend for half a day. Her message to SÍS was simple: “Negotiate. It’s not complicated. These are some of our most important workers. This is completely disrespectful. Negotiate.”

Voting on New Mediating Proposal “the Right Decision”

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, believes that putting the state mediator’s new proposal to a vote was “the right decision.” Sólveig told Vísir that claiming that any kind of victory had been achieved was preposterous, given that  SA had been unwilling to negotiate directly with Efling.

Lockouts and strikes postponed

After temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson announced this morning that Efling and SA had agreed to vote on a new mediating proposal – and that all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts would be postponed – Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the Chair of the Efling union, shared her reaction to the proposal with the media.

In an interview with Vísir, Sólveig stated that she was unwilling to say whether or not she recommended that Efling members vote in favour of the new proposal – but that it was, nevertheless, “the right decision to hold a vote;” the impending lockout and wage improvements for maids and truck drivers were among the reasons why Efling’s negotiating committee had agreed to vote on the proposal.

“This is a legally presented media proposal. It is, of course, clear that SA does not intend, and will not sign a collective agreement with Efling,” Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir commented.

Asked what it was in the mediator’s proposal that convinced Efling’s negotiating committee to put it to a vote, Sólveig Anna referred to the fact, among other things, that hotel maids and Samskip drivers would be moved up a pay bracket; that an agreement had been reached with the employers of striking drivers regarding a bonus for transporting hazardous material; and that full retroactivity of the wage agreement had been negotiated (active from November of last year).

“Being presented with this legal mediation proposal, given that there was this devastating lockout on the horizon, I – as the chair of this association, and as the chair of the negotiating committee – […] felt that, in a conversation with the committee, that this was something on which our members could vote. And I believe it is the right decision,” Sólveig Anna told Vísir.

Up to Efling members to decide

Sólveig Anna also told Vísir that although she was unwilling to say, as previously noted, whether she would recommend that Efling members vote on the proposal, she would do her job: “Of course, I will do what I have to do as Efling Chair, and as the chair of the negotiating committee, which is to clarify what has happened – to clearly explain the content of the proposal, alongside anything else that was discussed yesterday. It is then up to the members themselves to decide how they vote,” Sólveig Anna explained.

Sólveig was likewise unwilling to speculate whether the new proposal would serve to end the wage dispute; if she had signed a collective agreement that she and the negotiating committee had struck, and with which they were happy, then she would have certainly encouraged members to vote in favour of it.

“There are simply different rules to the game when it comes to a mediating proposal, but I will, as I’ve stated, do my job,” Sólveig Anna observed.

Strikers “the real heroes” of the labour movement

Sólveig Anna reiterated her displeasure with the fact that SA had refused to enter into a collective agreement with Efling. Labour improvements had been made for staff, including hotel maids and drivers, who had been willing to strike. However, Sólveig noted, no one could claim that any kind of victory had been achieved, given that it had proved impossible to reach a collective agreement – and that a mediation proposal had been the only way forward.

Efling had, however, won certain smaller victories when it came to the dispute: the organisational and fighting power of the union was obvious to everyone: “These are the real heroes of the Icelandic labour struggle: low-wage workers who show that they know what they’re worth,” Sólveig Anna remarked.

Sólveig also considered the fact that Efling had not been forced to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) to the Office of the State Mediator, in order to vote on Aðalsteinn Leifsson’s initial mediation proposal – which Sólveig Anna described as “illegal” – as a victory.

Given the state of the dispute, Efling’s negotiating committee believed that it was impossible to continue. SA was “ready to do everything in its power” to avoid entering into a collective agreement with Efling and “deprive the company of its independent bargaining rights.”

“It would be absurd for anyone to perceive that as a victory,” she stated.

A warning for the future

Finally, Sólveig Anna warned the members of the labour market not to act against Efling in the future:

“I truly hope that those parties within the Icelandic labour market who have lobbied for the union to be deprived of its independent bargaining rights will think twice before doing it again,” said Sólveig Anna, who described Efling as “the most powerful labour union in the country.”

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.

Confederation of Enterprise to Vote on Lockout Against Efling

efling strike iceland

The board of SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, has agreed to present a vote to its member companies to initiate a lockout against the members of the Efling trade union.

According to SA chairperson Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, SA members will be presented with a vote today. Stating that negotiations with Efling have gone as far as they can, the potential lockout would represent an escalation of the so-far unproductive negotiations between the two labour organisations. If the lockout goes through, it would potentially affect the entire Efling membership, some 20,000 workers. Efling is one of the largest trade unions in Iceland and a lockout against the union would have significant effects on the entire economy.

Read More: No Postponement of Strikes

Halldór was careful to note in a statement that the tactic has been used sparingly by SA throughout the decades, but that the uncooperative tactics in use by Efling have forced his hand. He has been quoted as referring to the vote as an “emergency measure.”

“In short, SA can initiate a lockout, just like Efling can threaten a strike,” Halldór clarified. “When the vote is over, and let’s assume it’s approved, we will hand over a document to the leadership of Efling notifying them of the lockout. The state mediator will also receive a copy. Just like in the case of strikes, it has seven days to be implemented. We believe that we have reached such a critical moment in this dispute that we can no longer allow Efling to paralyze society as a whole with a hand-picked group of employees.”

Halldór likewise stated that the vote would concern all members of Efling, but that a potential lockout will be implemented with specific regard to the conditions SA members find most suitable.

Read More: Efling Suspends Strikes

The vote comes after threats by Efling chairperson to resume strikes, which had been postponed, on Sunday.

Locked-out workers would not be allowed to show up to their usual employment. As such, they would not receive wages, accrue leave, or receive pension payments.

Efling Suspends Strikes, Talks to Resume at 10 AM

Efling union

Efling’s negotiating committee has postponed all strikes until Sunday. The Director of SA’s Labour Market Division says no victory has been won; the postponements are primarily a way to ensure peace to negotiate, RÚV reports. Talks are set to resume 10 AM Friday.

The suspension of strikes not a victory

Efling’s negotiating committee has agreed to postpone all strikes until Sunday so that “formal talks” can begin with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). Ástráður Haraldsson, temporarily appointed state mediator, told RÚV that a decision had been made to impose a media ban on the negotiating committees and that the plan was to conclude the talks this weekend. Whether or not the negotiations would prove successful would have to be seen.

Ragnar Árnason, Director of SA’s Labour Market Division, clarified that the postponement of strikes was not an upshot of the negotiations but was primarily about ensuring peace to work: It is difficult to call people to a meeting when they’re busy monitoring strikes and putting out fires in their places of work.

Ragnar stated that SA requested that the strikes be postponed longer but that the decision was up to Efling and SA was not in a position to make further demands. “We’ll see what the next few days bring, that is if we have to postpone strikes again if things go well this weekend.” Ragnar does not consider the suspension of strikes a victory; companies had suffered a lot of damage during the cessation of work.

The right decision at this time

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of Efling, told RÚV that the union’s negotiating committee had weighed the decision to postpone strikes for “a long time.” The committee had concluded that this was the right thing to do, given the situation. “We would never have made this decision unless we believed that talks were progressing, that something was happening, that there was something to be gained.”

Sólveig added that things would clear up soon enough. Efling would attend tomorrow’s meeting and the negotiating committee was prepared to hold discussions for as long as necessary. She admitted that it had been a difficult decision to postpone the strikes because strikes are “their weapons.” “They’ve gotten us to this place; we’re headed towards real wage negotiations.”

State Mediator to Drop Enforcement Request Against Efling

efling union hotel strike

State Mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson has withdrawn his enforcement request to the sheriff’s office, following a meeting with Efling legal team. Vísir reports.

In the wake of failed negotiations between Efling trade union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), the state mediator has invoked his ability to the put the terms of the suggested deal directly to Efling members, bypassing their negotiating team. To do so, member registries have been requested from Efling, who have countered that the registry does not exist.

Read More: Majority Vote in Favour of Strike Action

Sólveig, chairperson of Efling trade union, stated recently to Vísir: “We have no obligation to prepare data that does not exist. This electoral register does not exist. […] In the District Court, an expedited hearing was requested by those who submitted this procedural request and then the subpoena. The request to expedite was approved, it took about four days in total. I believe that Efling’s request for an expedited hearing in our appeal case will be accepted. If it not, it is in my opinion extremely surprising and a sign of the inequality in our system. […] There should be a final result in this case, and until it is before us, it is Efling’s position that the electoral roll should not be prepared and delivered.”

Read More: Union Strike Ruled Legal

However, the state mediator has now withdrawn his request to enforce the order.

On February 6, the Reykjavík District Court ruled that Efling is indeed obliged to hand over the data in question. Efling chairperson Sóveig had previously stated her intention to appeal the matter, but Efling has now agreed to obey the order if the district court ruling is confirmed at the national level.

The Efling strike began Tuesday, February 7, and affects some seven Reykjavík hotels.




Majority of Hotel Staff, Drivers Vote in Favour of Strike Action

Hotel workers strike Reykjavík

Hotel staff and drivers have accepted two sets of strike actions, as proposed by the Efling union, with over 80% of the vote, Vísir reports. The Chair of the Efling union has continued to criticise the state mediator’s mediating proposal, while refusing to hand over the union’s electoral roll.

Over 80% in favour of strike action

As noted in an announcement from the Efling union yesterday, hotel staff and drivers have accepted two new sets of strike actions with over 80% of the vote. The voting ended at 6 PM yesterday.

Hotel staff at the Edition Hotel and at the Berjaya hotel chain approved the measures with almost 82% of the vote. A total of 487 were on the electoral roll. Of those, 255 voted, or over 52%. 209 approved, 40 rejected, and 6 abstained.

Truck drivers with Samskip, Olíudreifing, and Skeljungur also agreed to go on strike, with about 84% of the vote. 57 voted, or 77%, of the 74 Efling members that were on the electoral roll. 48 voted in favour, 7 against, and 2 abstained.

A strike among Efling members began at Íslandshotels yesterday, with almost three hundred hotel employees going on strike at noon and gathering at Iðnó for a rally.

Sólveig Anna severely critical of the mediating proposal

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling Union, reserved harsh words about the state mediator’s mediating proposal, referring to it as “an unprecedented act.” Sólveig stated that the proposal had completely altered the rules of the game within the Icelandic labour market – the power had been snatched away from the hands of the workers.

Asked why it was not advisable to eliminate all doubt in regards to the mediating proposal by simply inviting the members of the Efling union to vote, Sólveig replied that the conditions for approval were too narrow; of the 20,000 Efling members, 25% of them would have to reject the mediating proposal, regardless of the percentage of voters who vote in favour.

The reality in the Icelandic labour market, Sólveig told RÚV, was that it was easier said than done to get so many people to participate in elections within trade unions. When the state mediator presented his mediating proposal, other unions competed to condemn it. Asked if the proposal has served to reduce hostilities between trade unions, Sólveig observed the following:

“I won’t comment on that, but what happens, of course, when such incredible and truly unprecedented situations arise, people realise that there is an experiment going on here: testing how far the powers of the state mediator can be expanded and then creating this situation where if, for some reason, a trade union – whether it is a huge one like Efling or a small one – does not agree to the collective agreements that other unions have signed, then the state mediator will simply say: here is a mediating proposal, enjoy – you have nothing to say about the matter. That’s why I think that the entire Icelandic labour movement has risen up to say that this is obviously not working and this must be stopped.”

State mediator yet to receive Efling’s electoral roll

After the District Court of Reykjavík ruled in favour of the legality of the state mediator’s proposal, the Efling union has requested an expedited hearing by the Court of Appeals (Landsréttur) on the union’s appeal against the District Court’s decision. State mediator, Aðalsteinn Leifsson, told RÚV yesterday, that such a thing would be fruitless:

“We have in our hands a judgement from the district court, which clearly states that any appeal or complaint to another judicial authority has no effect on its enforcement. So, as an official, I must do my duty and ensure that I get this electoral roll and that the members of the Efling union get to exercise their right to vote,” state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson stated.

The state mediator has tried to convince Efling to hand over its electoral roll so that members could vote on the mediating proposal. Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has maintained that compiling a voter list for the mediating proposal was “highly complicated.”

The state mediator has sent an enforcement request to the district magistrate to obtain Efling’s electoral roll. As noted by RÚV, only a few days pass until enforcement is carried out, in this case, representatives from the magistrate’s office go to Efling’s office and collect the voter register.

Ministry Dismisses Efling’s Complaint Against State Mediator

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir Efling

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has dismissed Efling’s administrative complaint against the State Mediator’s mediating proposal, RÚV reports. The Ministry believes that the matter is “not an administrative decision that may be appealed to a higher authority.” In what is expected to be a big day, both the Labour Court and the District Court of Reykjavík will be hearing cases related to the ongoing dispute between Efling, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, and the state mediator today.

Lack of consultation, questions about competency

In an announcement on its website at the end of January, Efling stated that it had filed an administrative complaint against the state mediator’s mediating proposal to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. The union demanded that the mediating proposal be repealed as there was a lack of consultation, validity, proportionality, and equality. Efling added that the state mediator was incompetent and could not be considered impartial in the dispute.

On the union’s website yesterday, Efling announced that it had further submitted a request for annulment to the Reykjavík District Court. The reason: a lack of reaction from Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, to Efling’s administrative complaint.

This morning, however, the ministry announced that it had decided to dismiss Efling’s complaint. In the opinion of the Ministry, the mediating proposal, according to Article 27 of the Act on Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, is part of the work of the state mediator and part of the procedure that aims to resolve a labor dispute between the parties. In contrast, paragraph 2 of Article 1 of administrative law states that the law applies when the government, including administrative committees, make decisions about “people’s rights or obligations.”

“Decisions on procedure and decisions that have a general legal effect are, therefore, not considered decisions on the rights or obligations of people in this regard,” the verdict reads.

A “big day” in the labour dispute

As noted by Vísir, today marks a “big day” in the dispute between Efling and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), on the one hand, and in the dispute between Efling and the state mediator, on the other. Hearings will take place today in the Reykjavík District Court in the dispute between Efling and the state mediator (the mediator has requested Efling’s electoral roll in order to put the mediating proposal to a vote among Efling members).

The Labour Court will also begin hearings in the dispute between Efling and SA this afternoon; SA has requested that the court rule whether or not Efling union members are allowed to go through with their planned strikes on Tuesday – while the state mediator’s proposal remains on the table.

With Strike Vote Nearing, Efling Refuses to Hand Over Membership Records

Aðalsteinn Leifsson

In light of Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s rejection of state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson’s proposal, Efling is now being asked to hand over its list of registered members so that a vote on the proposed mediation can take place.

As of the time of writing, Efling, Iceland’s second-largest trade union, has refused to comply with the request. Now, state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson is appealing the matter to the Reykjavík District Court.

Read more: State Mediator’s Proposal Meets with Criticism

Following a historically short meeting between Efling and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), the state mediator suggested applying the terms negotiated between SGS, another major trade union federation, and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise. Sólveig Anna, in her trademark style, rejected the proposal and called into question its legality. Not all agree with this legal interpretation, including former state mediator Ásmundur Stefánsson, who stated to Morgunblaðið: “it is quite clear that the mediator has the authority to submit a mediation proposal and does not need the consent of the disputing parties to do so. That is a fact.”

Now, in an attempt to avert a strike, the state mediator seeks to submit the terms of the previous SGS agreement to Efling members.

See also: Efling Chair Demands Labour Market MP Intercede

Because of a particularly difficult negotiating climate including rising costs of living, and because Efling represents many of Iceland’s lowest-paid workers, Efling has been particularly militant in its recent negotiations.

However, some have pointed out that Efling leadership’s entrenched position may not necessarily represent the general position of its members. Of its some 20,000 members, a few hundred in the Reykjavík hotel sector would be affected by the strike.

Members of Efling employed in six Reykjavík hotels are expected to vote on their strike action tonight. If the vote goes through, the strike is expected to begin next week.

Update: Efling has since filed an administrative complaint to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour Market regarding the conduct of the state mediator. The Reykjavík District Court has given Efling until this Friday to formally decide whether they will hand over their membership registration to the state mediator.