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.

Minister to Introduce Relief Bill for Grindavík Workers

Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources

A bill for temporary support for wage earners in Grindavík will be presented by Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. The bill, inspired by COVID-19 relief measures, aims to secure the livelihood of those impacted by the town’s evacuation.

Process expedited

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, will introduce a bill on temporary support for wage earners in Grindavík at a government meeting today. The bill aims to ensure the livelihood of employees of those businesses in Grindavík that have had to close due to the town’s evacuation amid ongoing geological unrest.

As noted by RÚV, the bill is based on measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic when the state financed the salary payments of those in quarantine. The payments will be capped at a certain maximum (during COVID, the maximum daily payments amounted to ISK 21,100 [$150/€138]). It is not yet clear whether the amount will be the same in the Social Affairs Minister’s bill.

“The objective of the bill is to ensure the livelihood of employees of those businesses in Grindavík that have had to close due to the situation. The goal is to reduce uncertainty among those facing loss of income and to protect the employment relationship,” Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, stated in an interview with RÚV.

Having been introduced to the coalition government, the bill is expected to be presented to Parliament next week to ensure that measures can be implemented before the end of the month. Addressing Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that it was important to process the bill quickly:

“It is of immense importance that we can clearly communicate to the people of Grindavík that their financial security will be ensured for the coming months and that this resolution will be available in good time by the end of the month,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir remarked.

Select residents allowed re-entry

In an ongoing effort to allow residents to retrieve valuables from the town, the authorities have contacted those residents of Grindavík who will be allowed to enter the town today, starting at 9 AM. Businesses will be permitted re-entry after 2 PM. As noted by RÚV, electricity was restored to the eastern part of Grindavík in the afternoon yesterday following repairs.

Kristín Jónsdóttir, Head of the Department of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Deformation at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told reporters earlier this week that she believed an eruption would occur in the coming days; volcanic gas was detected within a borehole at the Svartsengi Power Plant yesterday. The end of the borehole extends close to a spot in the earth’s crust where the magma conduit is believed to be located. The gas is considered confirmation that magma is present north of Hagafell, as models have indicated.

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.

Fishing Industry Parties Sign 10-Year Collective Agreement

Fish processing workers preparing salt cod

Four seafood industry unions signed a 10-year collective agreement with Fisheries Iceland (Samtök fyrirtækja í sjávarútvegi, or SFS) last night. The new agreement emphasises wage hikes in line with those of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS), a rise in pension contributions, and increased safety and health for workers. Workers will vote on the agreement in the coming weeks, but negotiators on all sides have expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

On the Icelandic labour market, collective agreements are often negotiated for 2-3 year periods. According to Vísir, the newly-signed fishing industry agreement could be the longest in Icelandic history. Four unions are signatories to the agreement with SFS: the Association of Shipmasters (Félag skipstjórnarmanna), the Seamen’s Association of Iceland (Sjómannasamband Íslands), the Seamen’s and Engineers’ Association of Grindavík (Sjómanna- og vélstjórafélag Grindavíkur) and the VM Association of Engineers and Metal Technicians (VM Félag vélstjóra og máltæknimanna).

The last collective agreement between these parties expired three years ago, and previous negotiations, last held in 2021, proved unsuccessful. The parties began negotiating again at the start of this year and now have an agreement to show for it. Chairman of the Seamen’s Association of Iceland Valmundur Valmundsson said the mood among negotiators was positive and called the agreement a watershed for workers in the industry, which ensured wage hikes in line with hikes on the general labour market as well as better pension benefits. The agreement also establishes a special safety committee to increase emphasis on the health and safety of workers at sea.

The Icelandic seafood industry is one of the country’s key industries, employing around 7,500 people or approximately 3.9% of the workforce. The seafood industry contributes around 8% directly to Iceland’s GDP, but its indirect contributions are much greater. Marine products account for 43% of the value of Iceland’s exported goods.

Shorter Week for Same Pay Means Happier, Healthier Workers

Reykjavík restaurant workers

A shorter workweek without reduced pay improved worker well-being and work-life balance, while maintaining or even improving worker productivity, a new study co-published by the Icelandic Association for Democracy and Sustainability (ALDA) and independent think tank Autonomy shows. Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy told the BBC that “the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success” and has valuable takeaways for other governments around the world.

The study, called “Going Public: Iceland’s Journey to a Shorter Working Week,” analyses findings from a series of trials conducted by the City of Reykjavík from 2014-19 and the Icelandic government from 2017-21. In both trials, workplaces moved from 40-hour to 35 or 36-hour workweeks, without any reduction in pay for employees. The City of Reykjavík trial eventually included a total of 2,500 workers—more than 1% of Iceland’s workforce. Workers from offices, playschools, city maintenance facilities, care homes for people with disabilities, schools, museums, and the mayor’s office took part, among others. The government trial expanded on this initial trial, with the aim of understanding if the shortening of hours would have a positive impact on “both those who work irregular shifts as well as traditional daytime workers.” Four workplaces took part in the latter study: the Directorate of Internal Revenue, the Directorate of Immigration, Registers Iceland, and a police station in the Westfjords.

The trials “directly contradict” the frequently cited concern that “will unintentionally lead to overwork,” namely that in order “to maintain the same output, workers will simply end up making up their ‘lost hours’ through formal or informal overtime.” Instead, workplaces dealt with this concern by “implementing new work strategies, and through organising tasks via cooperation between workers and managers.” Strategies ranged from shortening meetings and rethinking shift plans to getting rid of longer coffee breaks during the work day.

Overall, participating workers reported feeling more energised after adjusting to their new, shorter schedules, and less stressed. They reported a better work-life balance, with more time for errands, to see family and friends, and just more time for themselves. They reported less stress at home and more time for exercise. “Many male participants in heterosexual relationships took a greater role in home duties after the trial started,” the study notes, “especially around cleaning and cooking.”

Shorter workweek has had a “negative effect,” argues police union chair

Not everyone is equally enamored with the shorter work week and its impacts, however. According to Fjölnir Sæmundsson, the chair of Iceland’s National Police Union, the shorter workweek has, for one, led to understaffing. He told Vísir that it had been estimated that the equivalent of 75 full-time personnel would need to be hired once the workweek was shortened, but the number of police officers employed has remained roughly the same. Fjölnir also said that officers are experiencing more stress.

“People have to come into work more often and are more stressed because there aren’t enough people on duty, especially out in the countryside,” he said. “I was just talking, for example to a man who runs an investigation unit who said that when people take off on Friday because of the shorter work week, their projects have to just wait until Monday because no one else has been hired. There’s no one to do it, which means it takes longer. People can’t just run faster; it’s been an out and out sprint already. The shortening of the work week has made it so that police officers are a bit tired. Police out in the countryside say they’re giving up—they can’t handle the stress.”

The National Commissioner of Police says that hiring is ongoing and that shift plans are still being adjusted to better accommodate the new hours and that things will be clearer in the fall.

Icelandic men work 12% longer weeks than women

Whether or not the shorter workweek is having a positive impact on workers in various sectors, it seems as though there are still gender-based discrepancies in working hours. A new report issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the difference in working hours for men and women in full-time positions is greater in Iceland than any other country surveyed. One reason given for this is that the marginal income tax is higher on women in cohabitating partnerships than men.

The OECD report found that Icelandic men’s working week is as much as 12% longer than that of Icelandic women. In Sweden and Norway, by contrast, there’s a 3% difference; in Denmark, it’s 4%. Among other OECD countries, the difference averages around 6%.

The report projects that one explanation for the difference in Iceland is that marginal taxes, which allows for the sharing of personal allowances, are levied more on women than men. The joint tax credit is used more often by men than women, as they often have higher incomes, which gives women less incentive to work more. The report projects, however, that changes to parental leave policy in Iceland will likely reduce the difference in working hours over time.

“The Icelandic trials can play a flagship role”

Although there are clearly more conversations and policy changes to be discussed around the shorter workweek, the trials in the ALDA/Autonomy study have, according to its authors, already made a lasting and widespread impact in Iceland: local trade unions have “achieved permanent reductions in working hours for tens of thousands of their members across the country. In total, roughly 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now moved to working shorter hours or have gained the right to shorten their working hours.”

Looking beyond the local environment, the study concludes that given the broad participation in these trials (1% of the workforce) and the inclusion of workplaces, such as schools and maintenance facilities that are often presumed to be unsuitable for shorter working hours, “the Icelandic trials can play a flagship role in showing how working time reduction should be considered a powerful, desirable and viable policy across contemporary advanced economies.”

Read the full report, in English, here.

Immigrants Rate Mental Health Lower than Native-Born Icelanders

Fiskur Útgerð Frystihús

Immigrants’ mental health is noticeably worse than natives’ in Iceland. Unemployment, financial insecurity, and loneliness are likely major factors, according to the authors of a labour market study that asked workers in Iceland to rate their mental health. The authors call for targeted measures to prevent immigrants’ poor mental health from becoming a long-term problem.

The study was conducted by labour market research institute Varða and Margrét Einarsdóttir was the lead author. The aim of the research was to examine the differences in self-rated mental health among workers in Iceland during COVID-19 in relation to their immigration status. “Unemployment, financial insecurity, and loneliness are all known risk factors for mental illness. It can be assumed that COVID-19 measures have hit immigrants harder than natives in relation to these factors, while at the same time affecting their mental health,” the study abstract states.

Over 22% of Locals and 34% of Immigrants Have Poor Mental Health

Respondents were asked to state their country of origin and were divided into two groups: those who were born in Iceland and those who had another country of origin. They were asked how many times in the last 14 days they had experienced nine different mental symptoms. “The results show a significant difference depending on immigration status and that mental health is noticeably worse among immigrants,” the study abstract states. More immigrants than natives stated they experienced almost all of the nine symptoms on an almost daily basis. When it came to overall mental health, 34.9% of immigrants measured as having poor mental health while 22.3% of native-born respondents did.

The abstract noted that immigrant’s financial situation was generally worse than that of native-born respondents and they face 3-4 times higher unemployment rates. The study’s authors concluded that authorities must take measures to address the issue. “Immigrants’ access to mental health services, their job security, and their earnings must be ensured.” The data was compiled from 8,461 responses.

More Young People Apply for Summer Work School in North Iceland

The Akureyri Work School, which provides summer work for young people in the North Iceland town doing a variety of public improvement projects, has had 50% more applications this year than last, RÚV reports. A total of 696 young people applied for work opportunities through the work school; all applicants to the program are guaranteed paid work this summer.

The Akureyri Work School offers paid summer work opportunities for students who are 14, 15, 16-17, and 18-25 years old. The highest increase was among 17-year-old students: 126 in 2020, versus 38 last summer.

As the school received more applications than expected, it revised the parameters of its summer programs and in some cases, reduced the total number of summer working hours for an age bracket but extended the time period over which the hours would be completed in order to ensure that young people remain active throughout the summer.

Fourteen-year-old participants in the program will be offered 105 working hours over the summer; 15-year-olds, 120 hours; 16-year-olds 140 hours. The oldest age group, 17-year-olds, will be given 200 hours of work over the whole summer period. The municipality has also authorized 100 special summer jobs within institutions, museums, or companies to be opened to young people aged 18-25 and 121 applications were received for these positions.

City Turns Down Union Offer, Strike Continues

City of Reykjavík strike

The City of Reykjavík turned down Efling Union’s third contract proposal yesterday, RÚV reports. No further meetings have been scheduled between the parties. Efling members employed by the city continue a general strike, affecting preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and waste management.

Third union offer rejected

A meeting between Efling and city representatives yesterday afternoon ended without a resolution. In a notice published yesterday, Efling expressed disappointment that their third offer had been rejected by the city. The offer proposed paying staff a work-related premium “in recognition of professional responsibility, work load, work-related costs, and other factors.” The premium would vary based on occupation and workplace and would not be included in the base salary for calculating overtime.

A statement from Efling’s negotiation committee harshly criticising the city was published alongside the notice. “We condemn your hypocrisy, silence, and lack of responsibility,” it stated. “Our demands are just. Our fighting spirit is strong. Striking is our right.”

Mayor defends city’s offer

In a radio interview this morning, Efling Director Viðar Þorsteinsson accused Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson of attempting to derail the discussion using “mathematical gymnastics.” The Mayor defended the city’s offer, saying it entails a substantial “correction” of low wages, as Efling is calling for. “People have to understand what is being offered, but instead we continually hear big words, that suggest that no wage hikes were being offered,” the mayor stated.