Iceland Symphony Orchestra Strike Narrowly Avoided

Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Eldborg Hall

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the state have settled their wage dispute. Agreements were signed at the state mediator’s office yesterday evening at 7:00 PM, just in time to call off a musicians’ strike that was set to begin today. The dispute was referred to the state mediator last June.

According to a government notice, the state mediator and the negotiation committee have placed great emphasis on the involvement of the Ministry of Culture to resolve the dispute. The Ministry of Culture and Trade has proposed that the Symphony Orchestra receive additional funding in the coming years to cover the costs of salary increases and strengthen workplace culture.

Operations have been challenging for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in recent years, not least due to the coronavirus pandemic. The notice also states that it was clear that a strike would impact the orchestra’s ability to meet its obligations and its possibilities of earning income.

When the Band Began to Play: 70 Years of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra

“The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra pays a key role in Icelandic musical life. It is therefore gratifying that an agreement has been reached,” stated Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir. “A strike could have had a significant negative impact on cultural life in the country.”

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1950 and has been a central figure of Iceland’s musical landscape since. The orchestra has received two Grammy nominations. Read more about the orchestra in Iceland Review Magazine.

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.”

Air Traffic Controllers to Strike

The Icelandic Air Traffic Controller Association (FÍF) has called for a strike after talks around an ongoing dispute over working hours failed to reach an agreement. The work stoppage will take place next week, on Tuesday, August 31. Vísir was first to report.

The action comes in the wake of a stalled meeting between FÍF and Isavia, which handles the operation of Keflavik International Airport and manages air traffic in the Icelandic control area. Representatives for both parties took part in a marathon meeting on Monday from 1:00 – 11:30 pm. Unfortunately, no agreement was reached.

FÍF chairman Arnar Hjálmsson confirmed that the work stoppage will be short and temporary. It will apply for all union members who work for Isavia. Arnar expressed disappointment at having to resort to a strike action but said there was no other option. The overwhelming majority of FÍF members support striking, he said, and the union must accede to their wishes.

Earlier this month, on August 9, FÍF members approved six independent work stoppages as part of their contract dispute. Five of these have been postponed; the window to avoid the final work stoppage closes at 5:00 am on Tuesday morning.

Arnar told reporters that it is now in the hands of the state mediator to call another meeting between the union and Isavia. No further meetings have yet been scheduled.

Singers Criticise Management of Iceland’s Only Opera Company

Icelandic Opera

The Professional Association of Classical Singers in Iceland (Klassís) has issued a declaration of no confidence in Icelandic Opera’s board and director Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdóttir, RÚV reports. In a statement, Klassís criticises the opera’s management in recent years, accusing it of undermining solidarity among singers and suggesting soloists who seek their rights are denied work at the company as a result. The statement comes on the heels of a ruling by the Reykjavík District Court in the company’s favour.

Soprano Þóra Einarsdóttir sued the Icelandic Opera last year, claiming the company underpaid her and several other singers for their work in its 2019 Marriage of Figaro production. Several of the production’s soloists complained about an excessive workload and turned to the Icelandic Musicians Union (FÍH) for support. The union’s chairman Gunnar Hrafnsson says the singers’ combined wage demands were around ISK 4 million ($31,000/€26,000).

Court Acquits Opera Company

Last Friday, the Reykjavík District Court acquitted the Icelandic Opera in the case, though it also waived Þóra’s legal costs. Þóra declined to discuss the ruling in detail, but stated it raised many questions. No decision has been made on whether the ruling will be appealed.

The case centered on clarifying whether the Icelandic Opera had an obligation to pay singers according to union rates. The company argued that it did not, as the singers were hired as contract workers. FÍH claimed the Opera Company never officially terminated the permanent contracts it had with singers prior to the Marriage of Figaro production and must therefore pay them according to union rates.

Singers’ Salaries Have Fallen

Klassís asserts that singers’ salaries have fallen in real terms over the past several years and points to the Icelandic Opera’s management and policy as the cause. The group’s statement also accused the company’s board of deliberately barring eligible singers from taking a seat on the board, “for example by changing its bylaws in a closed meeting.”

The Icelandic Opera is Iceland’s only professional opera company. Iceland’s government has, however, appointed a working group to research the founding of a national opera company. In its statement, Klassís called the move a “turning point” stating that with the founding of a national opera company: “Singers hope that management practices such as those that Icelandic opera singers have had to accept on the part of the Icelandic Opera in recent years will thus be eradicated and professionalism resumed and respected.”

Sues Icelandic Opera Over Wage Dispute

Scene from the Icelandic Opera's 2017 staging of Tosca

Opera singer Þóra Einarsdóttir is suing the Icelandic Opera, claiming the company underpaid her and several other singers for their work in a Marriage of Figaro production in 2019, RÚV reports. The opera company claims that since the singers were hired as contractors, it was not obliged to pay them union rates. Þóra expressed disappointment that no representatives of the company attended the principal proceedings in the court case, which took place last Friday.

The Icelandic Opera premiered their production of The Marriage of Figaro in September 2019. Several of the show’s soloists complained about an excessive workload throughout the production and turned to the Icelandic Musicians Union (FÍH) for support. The union’s chairman Gunnar Hrafnsson says the singers’ combined wage demands were around ISK 4 million ($31,000/€26,000).

Þóra argues that the Icelandic Opera did not pay singers according to FÍH’s rates. The company argues, however, that the rates only applied to singers permanently employed by the opera. The opera now only hires singers are contract workers and therefore the rates are irrelevant, according to the company. Gunnar stated, however, that the Icelandic Opera never officially terminated the permanent contracts it had with singers and therefore the performances in question must be paid according to FÍH’s union rates. Þóra has stated she believes it is important to clarify the issue so singers know where they stand.

Young Singers Lack Support, Says Plaintiff

In a public Facebook post, Þóra decried the lack of opportunities and support for emerging opera singers in Iceland. According to the singer, when the Icelandic Opera contracts Icelandic soloists who live abroad, it does not pay their travel expenses or room and board, rather singers get a one-time contract fee of ISK 300,000 ($2,350/€1,940) before taxes for around six weeks of work, six days per week. She also charged the company with failing to respect occupational safety and health regulations.

Icelandic Opera’s lawyer Viðar Lúðvíksson stated that his client believes the issue will be clarified through the evidence presented and considered it unnecessary to attend the proceedings last Friday. About the case, Viðar said “It is simply a dispute between a contractor and buyer over the content of contracts.” He stated that the company’s director did not receive an invitation or summons to the court proceedings.

Strike at Rio Tinto Begins Tomorrow

ISAL aluminium smelter

A planned strike of 400 employees of the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter in Straumsvík, not far from the capital, will go ahead as planned tomorrow, Friday, October 16, RÚV reports. The chairman of the Hlífar labour union says that negotiations have not been productive and employees are tired of waiting of a promised cost of living increase.

Five of the six labour unions that represent Rio Tinto employees voted to strike last week. If nothing changes, the first strike action will take place tomorrow, followed by an indefinite general strike to begin on December 1. According to Reinhold Richter, a union representative, the striking workers are demanding the same wage hikes as are outlined in the “standard of living contract” signed by unions and the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) in 2019.

Read More: Rio Tinto Considers Suspending Production at Iceland Aluminum Smelter

Rio Tinto’s employees have been without a contract since the beginning of July, although they were promised a wage increase in March, with the proviso that in order for the raise to go into effect, the company would first need to finalize new electricity agreements with Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland. The smelter failed to come to an agreement with Landsvirkjun, their contract expired, and the dispute was referred to a state mediator. This means that the promise raise been on hold.

Rio Tinto is one of the largest metal and mining corporations in the world. Its executives have long expressed dissatisfaction with its electricity prices and even raised the idea of permanently closing the smelter. They say that that high power costs have contributed to the company’s losses and are preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company.

Two-Day Strike Suspends Westman Islands Ferry Trips

The Herjólfur ferry to the Westman Islands will not sail today or tomorrow while its workers are on strike, RÚV reports. No meetings have been scheduled in the wage dispute between the ferry company and the Seamen’s Union (Sjómannafélag Íslands) that represents the workers.

Herjólfur’s workers began strike action last week, with a one-day strike that suspended ferry service. A three-day strike is scheduled for next week if the wage dispute is not resolved.

The ferry is the main form of transport between Iceland’s mainland and the Westman Islands for the islands’ 4,300 inhabitants. The ferry transported a record number of passengers last June, both locals and tourists, many of whom visit the islands for their large puffin colonies and unique nature.

First May Day Without Celebrations in 97 Years

hotel workers strike Reykjavík

May 1, or International Workers’ Day, has been observed with protest marches and workers’ demonstrations in Iceland since May 1, 1923; it has been a public holiday in the country since 1972. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and prohibitions on public gatherings of over 20 people, however, in-person May Day celebrations were called off in Iceland this year for the first time in nearly a century, Vísir reports.

As such, labour organizers, unions, and workers took their demands online, with a virtual rally organized by The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of University Graduates, and the Federation of State and Municipal Employees. The rally included performances by a broad range of Icelandic musicians, including Bubbi Morthens, Auður, and the Labour Brass Band, and was broadcast from Harpa concert hall on Friday night. People were also encouraged to make May Day-related signs and post them on social media.

Union Leader Urges Solidarity

In her May Day address, ÁSI President Drífa Snædal emphasized that workers and organizers should not lose sight of either their immediate demands—unemployment benefits and basic security for all workers during the current economic and employment crisis—nor the “big demands,” namely, “equality and justice and a just society.” She also urged solidarity now more than ever.

“There’s always a danger in circumstances such as these that people find themselves in such dire straits that they start undercutting one another and taking worse jobs under worse terms,” said Drífa. “Which is why it’s of the utmost importance that we abide by the framework that we’ve set out for ourselves here in Iceland and stick to our collective bargaining agreements and terms.”

Wage Disputes and Contract Negotiations Ongoing

May Day also threw into relief several high-profile wage disputes and contract negotiations that have been ongoing in Iceland of late. On Wednesday, the Icelandic Nurses Association voted to reject the contract that was signed by their union on April 10. Icelandic nurses have been without a contract for over a year; 46% of union members supported the new contract, while 53% voted against it.

Icelandic police have also been without a contract for over a year. Unable to demonstrate and make their demands publicly on May Day, they opted to take part in a digital demonstration. “One year without a contract,” declares the video, reminding viewers that 19 years ago, police took part in a public march on April 30, 2001, when their contract with the state had lapsed. “Police are on the front lines!” continues the video. “We venture in when others take shelter. We demand wage corrections without delay!”

Efling Union members employed by five municipalities in the capital area and South Iceland will also 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 strike will affect elementary schools and home services.

Wage struggles must be allowed to continue, concluded Drífa Snædal in her May Day address, responding to criticisms of continued strike actions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “If we push everything aside because of the situation—be it a collective bargaining agreement or wage dispute—we don’t know where it will end.”



Reykjavík City and Efling Union Reach Agreement in Wage Disputes

Reykjavík pond

Efling union and Reykjavík City reached an agreement for a collective bargaining agreement last night, following a three-week-long strike of Efling workers. The strike had a disruptive effect on kindergartens in the capital area. Full-time employees in the lowest wage bracket will see a wage raise of ISK 112,000 per month ($875, €770).

Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson states that the agreement is in accordance with what the city had previously offered Efling workers. “The way I see it, this a breakthrough agreement,” Dagur commented. The two sides agreed on a ISK 15,000 ($117, €103) special allowance for the lowest wage brackets, with a lower amount for those in higher wage brackets.

Along with the wage raise, an agreement for the shortening of the workweek was also reached. The workweek of shift-work employees will be shortened from 40 hours to 36, while those who work at all hours of the day will see a shortening of the workweek to 32 hours. Employees working at office hours in the daytime will also be able to shorten their workweek to 36 hours, from the aforementioned 40.

Furthermore, kindergarten staff is ensured to receive 10 overtime hours per month in the form of a special allowance. Kindergarten staff will also have added leeway to sit courses and seek education. Educating kindergarten staff members will be given extra emphasis as part of salaries so that staff can save for paid education leave.

COVID-19 effect

The two sides celebrated the conclusion of the negotiation using sign language, refraining from shaking hands due to updated work procedures connected to the COVID-19 virus. Dagur also commented that the virus had undeniably put further pressure on the two negotiating committees. “We have daily meetings with the city’s emergency management team to prepare society for the outbreak of COVID-19, and the work needed to be done there is an unpleasant fit with the reality of strikes and wage disputes,” Dagur stated.

Reykjavík city officials have reached an agreement with six thousand Efling workers in the last two days, or close to 65% of those employed by Reykjavík city.

Next steps

Following the strike of Efling workers in Reykjavík, 300 Efling union members went on strike yesterday in adjoining capital area municipalities Kópavogur, Mosfellsbær, Seltjarnarnes, Ölfus, and Hveragerði. Efling president Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir expects a swift resolution to the wage dispute in those municipalities.

Two-Day Hotel Worker and Bus Driver Strikes Called Off

trade union iceland

The planned strike of hotel workers and bus drivers who are members of the Efling and VR unions that was planned to begin at midnight on March 28 and end at 11:59 PM on March 29 has been called off, RÚV reports. While multiple short-term strikes are still planned to go forward in the next week, the cancellation of this two-day action does signal that some progress has finally been made in negotiations between six labour unions, including Efling and VR, and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), Iceland’s employer federation.

The decision to call off the strikes was made at a five-hour negotiation meeting between SA and the unions that was held on Wednesday afternoon, mere hours before the strike was supposed to go into effect. It was the sixteenth such negotiation meeting and had, in fact, been postponed for the last two days because union chairs said that uncertainty with WOW air’s situation would impact negotiations. SA had requested that the forthcoming strike action be postponed in light of the ongoing WOW air negotiations, but the unions rejected this request.

The strike was cancelled “…in light of a new basis for talks, which has now been presented on behalf of the employers’ association, SA,” wrote Efling in a statement on its website. The exact details of the “new basis” was not specified, but Efling congratulated its members on “the great work that has been put into the planning and execution of the strikes so far, which have now resulted in a limited but significant success.”

“Whether it succeeds or not, we’re going to try to make it work in the next days and over the weekend,” remarked Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, the chair of VR.

Both Ragnar Þór and Efling chair Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir noted that this cancellation does not signal the end of negotiations by any means—it’s simply a step in the right direction. “I must express my feeling that we wouldn’t have made it here except for the fact that the strike weapon is a sharp one and it stings,” said Sólveig Anna.

The next set of 24-hour strikes is scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday next week. The city buses run by Kynnisferðir will also start their rush-hour strikes on Monday.