Collective Agreement Signed, Avoiding Strike and Lockout

VR Union. VR Chairman Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson and SA CEO Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir shake on the new collective agreement, March 2024

VR Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) signed a four-year collective agreement just after midnight last night, RÚV reports. The airport workers’ strike proposed by VR Union and the lockout proposed by SA have therefore been called off. VR Union’s chair Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson stated that the agreement is acceptable given the circumstances, but that the matter is not over yet.

“It’s been a long and hard period for us and it’s very gratifying that we’ve gotten this long-term collective agreement,” stated Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir, CEO of SA. The two parties signed an agreement based on a proposal submitted by the State Mediator yesterday. “The mediator submitted an internal proposal that was based on a certain special wage agreement resulting from the main wage agreement that we were finalising and which the negotiating committees of both parties agreed to,” Sigríður added.

Shift changes for airport workers

She stated that the wage hikes for VR Union members are the same as those that have been agreed on with other unions. They include a general percentage-based increase of 3.25% this year and 3.5% for the next three years.

Ragnar stated that the agreement includes an article on changing the shift schedule for Keflavík Airport workers, the group that had been set to strike later this month if an agreement had not been reached. Changes to the group’s shift schedule are to be agreed on by December 20 with the help of the State Mediator.

Last major signing in a series of negotiations

The collective agreement between VR and SA was the last of a series of collective agreements being negotiated on the Icelandic labour market for the coming years. VR Union also signed a collective agreement this morning with the Icelandic Federation of Trade (Félag atvinnurekenda) with terms similar to those of their agreement with SA.

New Collective Agreements Could Be Signed Today

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Tens of thousands of workers in Iceland may have new collective agreements this afternoon, RÚV reports. Unions within the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Iceland Enterprise (SA) are set to sign an agreement at 5:00 PM this afternoon. There are, however, still a few wrinkles to be ironed out regarding the participation of municipalities.

Union leaders expressed optimism yesterday that a deal would be made today. The Chairman of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), however, stated this morning that the union would not sign the agreement unless all municipalities in Iceland agreed to subsidise school meals. “Simply because this particular measure is a huge measure in the path we’re taking. It is an ISK 5 billion [$36.6 million, €33.6 million] measure, and the state is contributing ISK 4 billion to subsidise school meals, and the local authorities are supposed to contribute ISK 1 billion,” stated Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of SGS.

SGS represents some 44,000 workers in Iceland. Efling Union, which is also a part of the agreement set to be signed today, represents around 27,000 workers. VR, Iceland’s largest union by membership, is not a party to the collective agreement set to be signed this afternoon but continues negotiations with SA today.

Efling Union Workers to Vote on Strike

Strike efling hotel workers union

Janitorial staff in Efling Union will vote on strike action starting this Monday. If approved, cleaners in the Reykjavík capital area would strike on March 18. Efling representatives say the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) breached trust in ongoing collective agreement negotiations by reopening salary negotiations with other unions.

Efling is Iceland’s second-largest worker’s union. Efling’s negotiating committee did not attend a meeting at the State Mediator’s office yesterday and are not expected to attend today’s meeting between negotiating parties. Efling representatives assert that SA offered other unions with the Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) higher salary hikes than previously negotiated without consulting with Efling.

Read More: Unions Split on Wage Negotiations

If approved, the strike would involve around 1,000 workers, according to Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Efling.

Shaky Restart to Icelandic Wage Negotiations

State Mediator Ástráður Haraldsson

The first meeting in nearly two weeks between Icelandic unions and Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) was cut short yesterday, RÚV reports. The meeting began at 9:00 AM and was the first meeting since unions suspended negotiations nearly two weeks ago, calling them fruitless. The parties are meeting again today.

SA is demanding a four-year collective agreement be signed. Unions say they have agreed to the demand but ask for a clause in return that would give them a way out of the agreement if inflation and interest rate targets are not met. SA would not agree to such a clause, which was the reason negotiations were suspended.

The parties have reportedly already reached an agreement regarding salaries.

It is less than a year since the last collective agreement negotiations between SA and Efling Union were concluded after a tense and drawn-out negotiation period that involved strike actions. Unions have called on businesses and the government to take more concrete action to fight the high inflation and high interest rates that are impacting Icelandic households.

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.

Optimism in Ongoing Wage Negotiations

Westman Islands fish processing plant

The ongoing collective agreement negotiations in Iceland are going well, according to union representatives. Unions are hoping to negotiate a three-year agreement while the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) is hoping for a five-year agreement. Both sides have a willingness to negotiate, but say the involvement of the government will be crucial.

“We are ready to negotiate and there’s a good spirit between the contracting parties,” stated Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS). “We have reached the point now where it’s quite clear that we need to speak to the government before the weekend, to know what their involvement will be in these agreements.”

Price of services and goods rising

January is the month when fee hikes for public services take effect in Iceland. Prices for goods have also been rising alongside high inflation for more than a year. Both unions and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) have called on municipalities and businesses to keep price hikes to a minimum this year to ease the wage negotiations.

Salaries not a sticking point

Vilhjálmur says that wages themselves are not a sticking point in the negotiations at this time, and speculates that the parties can agree on a period between three and five years for the contract.

It is less than a year since the conclusion of very tense and prolonged collective agreement negotiations between SA and Efling. Tension was also high in November after the current negotiations began, and they were put on hold by union leaders due to proposed municipal fee hikes.

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.

Preschool Staff on Strike in 11 Municipalities

school children

Staff at 60 preschools in 11 municipalities went on strike today as negotiations between BSRB, the Federation of Public Worker Unions in Iceland and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) remain at a standstill. Other municipal staff across the country, including swimming pool and harbour staff, are already striking. Negotiators had an informal meeting two days ago but called it a step backwards.

“It was an informal meeting, so it wasn’t a traditional negotiation meeting,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, told RÚV. “But the result of the meeting was that we went backwards rather than forwards, so this dispute is still just in a deadlock.”

Today’s strikes affect preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, Árborg, the Westman Islands, Skagafjörður, Borgarbyggð, Stykkishólmur, Grundarfjörður, and Snæfellsbær. On Wednesday, harbour staff in Ölfus and the Westman Islands will strike.

BRSB has demanded that the collective agreement be retroactive from the beginning of this year, but the SÍS negotiating committee has resisted agreeing to such an arrangement.

Not Paying Workers During Lockout is Sólveig’s Decision, Efling Vice-Chair Says

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

There are no regulations that prevent Efling Union from paying workers during the lockout set to begin on March 2, according to the union’s Vice-Chair Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska. The statement contrasts with previous assertions from the union’s Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, who has stated that Efling would not make payouts to workers in the case of a lockout. In a post on her Facebook page, Agnieszka stated not providing financial support to workers affected by the lockout would be Sólveig’s personal decision, and criticised Sólveig for being “willing to have her low-wage members suffer.”

The Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) has approved a lockout of some 20,000 workers set to begin on March 2, the latest escalation in a fraught collective agreement negotiation between SA and Efling. During the lockout, Efling workers would not be permitted to show up to their employment. As such, they would not receive wages, accrue leave, or receive pension payments. Efling is currently paying striking members from its labour dispute fund, but a notice from the union stated that it would not make payments in the case of a lockout. According to the notice, “the union does not hold responsibility for a lockout and the labour dispute fund cannot sustain such payments.”

“The members of Efling have the right to know that the rules of the union aren’t stopping their chairman from paying from the fund in the case of the [lockout],” Agnieszka wrote on Facebook. “Its just her decision.” Agnieszka added that paying workers affected by the lockout was the “right thing” to do.

Lockout Affecting 20,000 Workers in Iceland Approved

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson SA Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise

Members of the Icelandic Confederation of Enterprise (SA) have approved a lockout of some 20,000 workers set to begin on March 2 at noon, RÚV reports. CEO of SA Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson has called it a “last resort” to force the conclusion of a collective agreement with Efling Union. Efling Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir says SA is using a lockout to force the government to step into the conflict.

Vast majority vote in favour of lockout

Nearly 88% of companies in SA voted on the lockout, with 94% voting in favour. During the lockout, Efling workers would not be permitted to show up to their employment. As such, they would not receive wages, accrue leave, or receive pension payments. Exceptions would be granted for workers in healthcare and other essential jobs, according to SA. Efling is Iceland’s second-largest union and the lockout would greatly impact the entire Icelandic economy.

In a press conference yesterday, Halldór Benjamín stated that the lockout was a response to Efling workers’ ongoing strikes, which led several hotels to temporarily close their doors. While those strikes are ongoing, Efling has postponed further strikes scheduled to begin on February 28, of additional workers in security companies, cleaning companies, and hotels.

Lockout is an attempt to involve government, Sólveig says

“This play is aimed at the government,” Efling Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir told RÚV when asked about the lockout. “Because Halldór Benjamín cannot make a collective agreement with Efling, he’s is waiting for the government to come and release him from the predicament he’s gotten into, and of course, we will wait and see if that happens.” Both Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Labour Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson have stated it is in SA and Efling’s hands to reach an agreement.

When asked whether the dispute could be resolved without government intervention, Sólveig answered: “I believe at this point in time that nothing is more obvious than the fact that SA does not intend and does not want to enter into a collective agreement with Efling.”

The pending lockout could leave Efling members in a tight spot as the union’s leaders appear to disagree on whether to make payouts to affected workers.