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.”

Talks Remain at a Standstill Following Today’s Meeting

wage negotiations

The meeting of the negotiation committees of BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) at the state mediator’s offices concluded at noon without an agreement. No new meeting has been called, RÚV reports.

2,500 BSRB members on strike

On May 15, BSRB, Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members, began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS).

BSRB’s strike action has gradually ramped up with 2,500 members going on indefinite strike yesterday. As noted in a press release on BSRB’s website, the current strike affects about 150 workplaces in 29 municipalities and includes “staff in kindergartens, swimming pools, sports facilities, service centres, town offices, utility houses, and harbours.”

As noted by RÚV, both parties had stood firm before today’s meeting; BSRB is demanding a lump sum payment of ISK 128,000 ($904 / €847) to correct the disparity in the salaries of its members compared to other workers who are employed to do the same job. The Chair of the SÍS negotiating committee stated that the demand was unfounded.

In an interview with RÚV prior to the meeting, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated that the federation would not budge from its lump-sum demand: “The message is very clear. We do not have the authority to finalise collective agreements unless there is a guaranteed lump sum payment of ISK 128,000 in order to correct the discrepancy in the wages of our workers compared to people who are employed to do the same jobs … it is simply unacceptable for people to do the same jobs and be paid less. They are doing exactly the same tasks every day, and our people are tired of this inequality.”

Today’s negotiations, held at the offices of the state mediator, began at 10 AM and concluded at just before noon without an agreement being reached.

Strikes Likely to Force Closure of Swimming Pools This Weekend

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

Strikes by members of the BSRB union who are employed by swimming pools will most likely force the closure of public pools in West, North, and East Iceland over the Whit Sunday weekend. Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told Mbl.is today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS), although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

Strikes begin

On May 15, BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Further strike action was approved last Friday, May 19, which means that this weekend, the number of people participating in BSRB strikes will be around 1,700. Eighteen municipalities will be affected by the strikes.

As noted in an announcement from BSRB this morning, the staff of swimming pools and sports centres in West, North, and East Iceland are among those who will begin strikes this weekend. This will most likely mean that numerous public pools within affected municipalities will be forced to close their doors to visitors over the Whit Sunday weekend.

“If agreements are not reached before June 5, swimming pools and sports centres will be added in even more municipalities, including the capital area, until agreements are reached,” the announcement further notes.

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told Mbl.is today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities; although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

The staff of the following swimming pools and sports facilities will stop working this weekend:

Akureyri
Akureyri swimming pool
Glerárskóli swimming pool (Glerárskóli Sports Centre)
The sports centre in Hrísey (swimming pool and gym)

Dalvíkurbyggð
Dalvík sports centre (swimming pool)

Fjallabyggð
The swimming pool in Ólafsfjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Ólafsfjörður
The swimming pool in Siglufjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Siglufjörður

Skagafjörður
The swimming pool in Varmahlíð and the Varmahlíð sports centre
Sauðárkrókur swimming pool and the Sauðárkrókur sports centre
The swimming pool in Hofsós

Fjarðabyggð
Stefánslaug in Neskaupstaður

Borgarbyggð
Swimming pool and sports centre in Borgarnes

Snæfellsbær
Snæfellsbær swimming pool and sports centre

Vesturbyggð
Brattahlíð, swimming pool in Patreksfjörður

Further Strike Action by BSRB Members Begins Today

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

Further strike action by members of BSRB began today. A week has passed since preschool and primary school workers went on strike in Kópavogur, Mosfellsbær, Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes. Today, strikes will extend to the same workers in Hveragerði, Árborg, and the Westman Islands, including primary school employees in Hafnarfjörður.

Further strike action beginning today

On May 15, BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Last Friday, BSRB members in 29 municipalities approved strike action in a vote that ended at noon. Votes were cast in each municipality separately, but the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority in all of them, according to information from BSRB.

Primary school workers in Hafnarfjörður and Ölfus will begin strikes today. On Tuesday and Wednesday, four other municipalities will join in the strike action. On Thursday, only primary school workers in Seltjarnarnes will be on strike (preschool staff in five municipalities will also be on strike). As noted by Mbl.is, port workers in Ölfus will also go on strike today.

The strike actions will have some effect in the coming weeks, except in Reykjavík. As noted by RÚV, Reykjavík is the only municipality in the country that negotiates directly with BSRB, and a collective agreement was signed last month. Other local authorities normally delegate their bargaining authority to the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

Same wages for the same jobs

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, has emphasised the federation’s demand that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities pay the same wages to BSRB union members as others in similar jobs. BSRB is demanding retroactive wage increases from January 1, when the last collective agreement was still in effect.

A schedule of BSRB’s strike action over the coming days and weeks may be viewed here:

BSRB

Wages Have Risen too Sharply, Finance Minister Observes

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, believes there are indications that many Icelandic companies are struggling to deal with negotiated wage increases. The interest rates should have been kept higher for longer, he told Morgunblaðið on Wednesday.

A sense of uncertainty

In an interview with Morgunblaðið on Wednesday, Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, expressed his concern for wage increases in the labour market:

“I think there is reason to be concerned when companies that have been doing well start to show losses and when wage rates have risen significantly. There have been indications in some financial statements that companies are struggling to cope with the negotiated wage increases.”

“This is unmistakably the case,” Bjarni continued, “and now we need to find some balance again. We need to read the situation and act as necessary. We have emphasised regaining balance in fiscal affairs, supporting the reduction of inflation and protecting vulnerable groups from the effects of inflation while it lasts,” Bjarni observed, noting that there was a sense of uncertainty within the economy.

“It has to be said that there is a certain amount of uncertainty. We see it, for example, in the Stock Exchange, when we witnessed the third biggest stock market drop in a single day since 2009. These are big events. They reflect insecurity and uncertainty, a certain sense of fear and a kind of reset. Things are being reconfigured,” Bjarni remarked.

BSRB strikes ongoing

As noted earlier this week, 1,000 workers belonging to the BSRB union – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – went on strike as part of BSRB’s ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

The strike actions affect, among others, staff in sports and primary schools in Kópavogur and Mosfellsbær, after-school programs in Mosfellsbær, preschools in Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes primary school:

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities must pay the same wages to BSRB union members as others in similar jobs. BSRB is demanding retroactive wage increases from January 1, when the last collective agreement was still in effect. The negotiating committee has offered wage increases from April 1st.

On Tuesday, BSRB released a statement emphasising that strike actions were planned for next week, extending to sports programmes and primary schools in Hafnarfjörður, Hveragerði, Árborg, Ölfus, and the Westman islands: “Further strike actions are being prepared in light of the fact that there is no progress in the negotiations.”

“The municipal staff have had enough of this injustice – and they want to take further action. Justice is, of course, workers receiving the same salary for the same jobs. Raising the minimum wage is long overdue so that people in essential jobs can make ends meet,” Sonja Ýr observed.

BSRB Strike Action to Begin Monday

school children

Strikes by members of the BSRB union are set to begin on Monday. A meeting between BSRB representatives and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS) at the state mediator’s office has proven unsuccessful. No new meeting has been called.

The largest federation of unions in the public sector

BSRB is the largest federation of public worker unions in Iceland. As noted on the union’s website, all trade unions operating in the public service, whether within the state, municipal, or private sector, are eligible to apply for membership to BSRB. The federation was established on February 14, 1942, and counts 19 affiliated unions with over 23,000 members. About two third of the members are women.

As noted by Mbl.is, a meeting between BSRB representatives and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS), held at the state mediator’s office today, was unsuccessful. “There has, in fact, been no progress. We didn’t sense much willingness to negotiate on the part of SNS,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, stated in an interview with Mbl.is Sonja clarified that the mediators saw no reason to schedule another meeting. Strikes will, therefore, begin on Monday.

As noted by Mbl.is, the strikes will be undertaken by 977 workers at kindergartens, primary schools and after-school centres in Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, and Seltjarnarnes. Additional strikes are scheduled for each passing week if no agreement is reached.

SNS must face up to the situation

In an announcement from SNS, the union encourages the leadership of BSRB to take its case in the union’s wage dispute to court and request that it be expedited. SNS says that if the court’s decision shows that the association is in the wrong, then the salary of union members will be redressed.

“It’s up to them to resolve this dispute without going to court. We currently have two options: on the one hand, to make a new collective agreement, where this inequality is corrected; or, on the other hand, to go to court. The position of our workers is very clear: they intend to take action to ensure that this inequality is remedied. I think that SNS has to start facing up this situation,” Sonja Ýr observed.

When asked if BSRB would consider taking the dispute to court, if strike action did not bring about the desired result, Sonja responded thusly: “I’m not worried that such large-scale operations will not achieve anything. I think it’s only a matter of time before the association will have to accept the situation,” Sonja concluded by saying.

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.

Reykjavík Public Buses See Increase in Ridership

public transportation iceland

The Reykjavík capital area public bus service Strætó has seen an increase in ridership in the past several months. The increase is seen as far back as December, but recent labour strikes that may affect petrol supplies may be having an effect. Strætó CEO Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson told mbl.is the service is prepared for more riders and for the impact strikes may have.

“We’ve seen a lot of ridership in recent months, even before the strike,” Jóhannes Svavar stated. “Whether that is connected to the strike, I won’t assert just yet.” Diesel supplies are running low in the capital area due to an ongoing strike among oil truck drivers, and the same may happen to petrol supplies if the strike continues. Were capital area commuters forced to leave their cars at home, an increasing number may turn to Strætó to get them from A to B. Jóhannes Svavar says the service is prepared. Strætó’s own fuel supplies would last the company about two weeks in the case of a fuel shortage, according to Jóhannes Svavar.

Heavy snow in December may have also encouraged commuters to opt for public transportation rather than private vehicles.

Read more about public transportation in Iceland.

Diesel Supplies to Run Dry Soon

driving in reykjavík

Due to an ongoing strike among oil truck drivers, petrol supplies are quickly depleting at Reykjavík stations, and representatives of major stations anticipate that supplies of diesel fuel will soon run out, Vísir reports. The CEO of N1 told the outlet yesterday that the company’s stations will close “one after the other” in the coming days. He is particularly concerned about the situation that may arise after the weekend.

Wage negotiations remain at a standstill

There is still no progress in the wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA); after Ástráður Haraldsson, the new temporarily-appointed state mediator, failed to inspire progress last weekend, members of the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) voted to approve a lockout of some 20,000 workers. The lockout is set to begin on March 2 at noon.

Meanwhile, strikes among oil truck drivers – alongside employees at the Berjaya and the Edition hotels (in addition to the original 700 striking hotel workers and other labourers) – resumed last Sunday at midnight. Since then, petrol supplies have gradually begun to deplete.

Representatives of major stations anticipate that supplies of diesel fuel will run dry soon. The CEO of N1 told Vísir yesterday that the company’s petrol stations would close one after the other in the coming days. He also expressed particular concern over the situation that may arise after the weekend.

“The petrol situation is better, but with regard to diesel stocks, I fear that the situation will become difficult around or after the weekend … I really don’t want to imagine the situation after the weekend, but it will be serious.”

Many N1 employees are members of the Efling union. Regarding the planned lockout of SA, Hinrik stated that N1 employees were “not at all ready to stop working.”

Companies facing a similar situation

As reported by Vísir, other oil companies face a similar situation. The CEO of Olís told the outlet yesterday that the situation was “difficult” and that, in some cases, both diesel and petrol supplies had run out, or were about to run out, at some of the company’s largest stations.

Drivers can view Ólís’ inventory status at its various stations online.

As supplies slowly run dry, some drivers have resorted to hoarding fuel. Last week, a truck driver posted a video on Tik-Tok in which he filled huge plastic tanks with diesel fuel. The first reports suggested that the man had pumped approximately four thousand litres, but it now seems that the quantity was even greater. Such a thing is both illegal and highly dangerous,

Þórður Guðjónsson, CEO of Skeljungur, told Fréttablaðið yesterday that it was a matter of “grave” concern when drivers carry more fuel on board their vehicles than the law allows. He also maintained that records were broken at petrol pumps last week.

Lockout to have a greater impact than strikes

Þórður also told RÚV that the effect of SA’s lockout would be much greater than that of the strike. “Contractors who drive for us belong to Efling, and as a result, they will not be able to distribute anymore … as soon as the lockout begins, pretty much everything will come to a standstill.”

RÚV also noted that SA’s lockout would also have a major impact on oil companies’ service stations and lubrication and tire services, which the Efling strikes have thus far not disrupted.

Participation in lockouts “not optional”

SA issued a statement yesterday, stressing that the participation of companies in the lockout was not optional. The Confederation also published a list of exempt parties from the lockout that will be imposed on Efling members. These include all those who work in health and geriatric services, as well as the police, the fire brigade, ambulances, and search-and-rescue teams, in addition to civil defence and educational institutions.

As noted by Vísir: “In the event of a lockout, no one who works according to the collective agreements between SA and Efling may come to work unless they receive an exemption from SA’s executive board. Salary payments are cancelled during the lockout, as in the case of strikes, as stated on SA’s website.”

Labour Minister to Disputing Parties: “You Must Try Harder”

The labour legislation needs to be revised in light of the current wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), government ministers stated yesterday. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, told RÚV that it was the responsibility of the disputing parties to resolve their conflict.

Government intervention an “emergency measure”

At a meeting yesterday, government ministers discussed the impact of strikes and lockouts in the ongoing wage dispute between the Efling union and SA. The ministers noted that the societal impact of a drawn-out dispute would be far-reaching – but that government intervention was an emergency measure. “We see it as our duty to be aware of what may lie ahead. I think it’s obvious to everyone that in the event of widespread strikes, not to mention lockouts, then that would have huge consequences for society as a whole,” Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson told RÚV.

Various memoranda on the impact of the strikes were submitted during the cabinet meeting, which ran longer than expected. Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Infrastructure, remarked that the government was not going to intervene at this time. “It’s obvious that the conflicting parties have reached an impasse, perhaps they’re expecting (an intervention), but in our opinion, resolving the dispute is their responsibility. We are, however, observing these developments closely, and if the dispute begins to have a serious and widespread impact on society in the coming days – we’re talking shortly, not even weeks – then, of course, we must be prepared.

“They must try harder”

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV that the government had already presented measures to facilitate collective bargaining. “It’s clear that we will not bring these measures to bear in this dispute; it’s in their hands. It’s their duty to do everything they can to reach an agreement. But we are, of course, following the situation very closely. A lot can happen over the coming days.”

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, stated that the wide-ranging effects of further strikes and lockouts on society were being closely monitored by the government. “This is a serious situation that has arisen and strong words have been spoken on both sides, which I don’t think is particularly helpful when it comes to resolving this dispute. I emphasise that it’s the responsibility of the disputing parties to sit down and try their best to reach an agreement.”

When asked if he believed an agreement could be reached, Guðmundur Ingi responded thusly: “I would say that it’s the duty of the negotiating parties to try to get together; they must try harder.”