Sólveig Anna Re-elected Chair of Efling Union

Efling Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has been re-elected chairperson of Efling Union. Sólveig resigned as chair of Efling less than four months ago amid allegations of bullying and serious workplace issues from Efling staff. Three former staff members sued Efling earlier this week before the Reykjavík District Court, in part for the newly-elected chair’s behaviour, Vísir reports.

Efling is the second-largest workers’ union in Iceland, with members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. The union’s election concluded last night, with Sólveig Anna’s “B List” receiving just under 54% of the vote. The B List received a total of 2,047 votes, while Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir’s A List received 1,434 votes, and Guðmundur Jónatan Baldursson’s C List received 331. Eighty-eight votes were ruled invalid. A total of 3,900 Efling members voted in the election, or 15% of the union’s 25,842 eligible voters.

“It was an incredibly hard election campaign, I have to say that, and the fact that we have won despite the incredible accusations that have been levelled at us, is in my opinion absolutely amazing,” Sólveig told RÚV reporters when the results were announced last night. She expressed gratitude to voters for their trust and stated there is be a lot of work awaiting her as the union’s next chairperson.

Sólveig faces allegations of misconduct

The election campaign was plagued by reports of staff unhappiness, bullying, and misogyny under Sólveig Anna’s tenure. A report released during the campaign found that Efling spent close to ISK 130 million [$1.04 million; € 909,063] on personnel-related matters during Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s four-year tenure as chairperson. Forty out of 50 of the union’s employees (80%) resigned from their positions during the same timeframe.

On Monday, three former employees of Efling sued the union before the Reykjavík District Court for alleged breaches of the wage agreement and reprehensible conduct of Sólveig Anna and Viðar Þorsteinsson, Efling’s former managing director, who is expected to return to his position following the election results. Sólveig Anna has denied all allegations of misconduct and has stated that her focus will be to serve the union’s members.

Reports of Ongoing Staff Unhappiness, Bullying, and Misogyny in Lead-Up to Efling Election

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

The Efling labour union spent close to ISK 130 million [$1.04 million; € 909,063] on personnel-related matters during Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir’s four-year tenure as chairperson, RÚV reports. Forty out of 50 of the union’s employees (80%) resigned from their positions during the same timeframe.

These were among the findings summarized in a new report that the news agency prepared in collaboration with the union, at the request of board member Guðmundur Baldursson. Guðmundur is running to be the next chairperson of Efling, as is current vice-chair Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir, and Sólveig Anna, who resubmitted her candidacy for the position in late January.

See Also: Sólveig Anna Announces Candidacy for Efling Chair

According to the report, from 2018, when Sólveig Anna started as chair, to 2021, when she resigned following accusations of workplace bullying, Efling paid nearly ISK 14 million [$112,089; €97,899] in severance agreements. Around ISK 66 million [$528,422; € 461,524] was paid during departing employee’s notice periods, during which time they are not required to work. The report also shows that Efling spent ISK 48 million [$384,307; € 335,654] on long-term illness during the same timeframe.

All total, this comes to ISK 128 million [$1.02 million; € 895,077]. This figure does not account for additional costs related to services provided by psychologists and other specialists.

‘Sólveig Anna was in a position to change these things’

The day after the findings of the abovementioned report came out, an independent audit on the union’s workplace culture was made public. The audit was conducted by psychology and counselling centre Líf og sál in November and December 2021 and showed evidence that bullying and misogyny were endemic to the union’s workplace culture. The findings were based on interviews with all of the union’s employees.

Efling CEO Linda Dröfn Gunnarsdóttir said she was not surprised by the findings—the audit simply confirmed the experience that many of spoken of in the union’s workplace before.

Sólveig Anna declined to be interviewed on either report, although she received several requests from RÚV to comment. In a post on her Facebook page, however, she did comment that staffing costs in the Efling office were high and that when she started as chair, she was surprised by the perks that were afforded union office employees. She said high-wage employees had turned the union movement into a self-serving machine, with perks like free catered meals on a daily basis, costly trips abroad, and frequent and expensive gatherings during working hours.

Ólöf Helga objected to Sólveig Anna’s characterization of workplace excess in the union office saying she hadn’t observed any of the things named by the former chair and, moreover, that if Sólveig Anna had thought there was something self-serving about the way the union office was being run, she could have done something about it. “I think Sólveig Anna was in a position to change these things during the four years she was the chairperson of Efling, if she was so unhappy with them.”

Election next week will decide next chairperson and board

Efling is the second largest union in Iceland, with about 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Sólveig Anna became Efling’s chair in 2018 and led wage negotiations and strikes among City of Reykjavík employees and hotel workers calling for better wages and working conditions for low earners. More than half of Efling’s members are of foreign origin. (Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska, the current, interim chairperson is, in fact, the union’s first chair of foreign origin.)

Sólveig Anna has denied the allegations made against her, and after her resignation, union members stated, in another letter to the media, that what they had wanted was solutions–not resignations. According to RÚV, however, the news agency has sources within the union that say that some employees are worried about Sólveig Anna’s possible re-election as chair.

The Efling election, which will also decide the union’s board, will take place this coming week, from February 9 – 15.

Resignations Will Not Fix Culture of Bullying, Former Efling Board Member Says

More than resignations are necessary to stop the bullying and violence faced by employees of Efling Union, Anna Marjankowska, a former Efling board member, told Iceland Review. Efling’s chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir and CEO Viðar Þorsteinsson have both resigned after Efling employee representatives released a statement of no-confidence in Sólveig Anna. She has denied accusations of intimidation and bullying.

Read More: Efling Union Leaders Resign After No-Confidence Letter from Employees

Efling is Iceland’s second-largest labour union, representing around 27,000 members who work in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Marjankowska joined the board of Efling in April 2018, not long after Sólveig Anna took over as chair, and says she was forced to quit due to bullying in September 2019. “I had to stop my activity in Efling after the violence I faced representing office staff members who received unfair treatment,” she stated. “Efling and ASÍ should be an example for other workplaces and if they do not address bullying and lack of transparency then they’re giving a green light to use them as tools of ‘management’.”

Marjankowska stated that Sólveig Anna and Viðar’s resignations did not surprise her. “They are the most responsible for the culture of bullying in the office, when I refused to stay silent about illegal dismissals in the office, they bullied me directly though others pressured me to resign from the board.” More than resignations are needed to change working conditions within Efling, Marjankowska says. “What the union needs is to serve the workers, make new policies and follow them. People need to take responsibility and change their behaviour. Quitting does not hold people accountable.”

Marjankowska also expressed concern about who would lead Efling in the upcoming contract negotiations. “How will they be managed? Who will represent the rights of foreign workers?” She added that several employees of foreign origin were the targets of bullying within Efling, including Christina Milcher and Maxim Baru, external organisers of a 2019 strike, but they were silenced.

Reykjavík Energy Addresses Workplace Harassment Accusations

Reyjavík Energy (OR) is now working toward changes to address the conclusions of a thorough assessment of the company’s work culture, RÚV reports. Around two months ago, the company was accused of sustaining a toxic work environment. The accusations were connected in part to the departure of two directors within the company. This prompted a detailed investigation into the company’s work culture, the results of which were released earlier this week.

Sexual harassment complaints

Reykjavík Energy is an energy and utility company owned almost exclusively by the City of Reykjavík. The company’s CEO Bjarni Bjarnason requested temporary leave during the investigation, purportedly to ensure the impartiality of the investigation. Bjarni Bjarnason has been implicated in a workplace harassment scandal which originally centered around the “inappropriate behaviour” of Bjarni Már Júlíusson, former CEO of ON Power, a subsidiary of Reykjavík Energy. Former ON Power employee Áslaug Thelma Einarsdóttir says Bjarni knew of her complains of sexual harassment at the company but failed to address them.

Some felt silenced

The assessment concluded that employees at the company generally experience support from their colleagues and superiors and feel good at work. Five out of six Reykjavík Energy employees measure their trust for their superiors highly, though a rather smaller proportion express trust in the company’s senior management.

Hildur Björnsdóttir, city councillor and Reykjavík Energy board member expressed satisfaction that the results of the assessment showed most of the company’s employees are happy with their work environment. She stated, however, that the report brought to light violations the company must address, and criticises that parts of the assessment have not been made available either to the company’s board or the public. “I know of people who experienced that as a sort of silencing,” she remarked.

Reykjavík Energy considers further investigation

According to the report, 30% of the company’s employees have experienced bullying in the workplace, and 104 employees left the company over the last four years. Hildur stated the company’s board would take the conclusions to heart and was considering whether additional investigation was called for.

“Don’t Change Women, Change the World”

pay gap iceland

Women in Iceland are organising to walk out of their jobs at 2.55pm on Wednesday, October 24, Mbl.isreports. This is the fifth time that women in Iceland have staged a mass walkout in protest of the gender pay gap since the first time the Kvennafrí, or “Women’s Day Off,” protest was held in 1975. Previous walkouts took place in 1985, 2005, 2010, and 2016. “We urge women to walk out,” remarked event project manager Maríanna Clara Lúthersdóttir. “Not just for themselves, but for all other women in Iceland.”

In recent years, the walkouts have taken place at the exact time at which women have earned their wages when compared to their male counterparts. In 2005, this meant that women left their jobs at 2.08pm. Five years later, they left at 2.25pm. In 2016, they left at 2.38pm. According to the Kvennafrí website, the gender pay gap adjusted for working hours is at 16%, but the income gap is still quite high: on average, women in Iceland earn 74% of the wages of their male counterparts. “We have gained only 47 minutes in 13 years,” reads the website. “If progress continues at the same pace, we will need to wait another 29 years before women in Iceland have the same wages on average as men, in the year 2047!”

While the gender pay gap is still a primary contention for organisers, this year’s Women’s Day Off is expanding its points of focus to include workplace violence and harassment. “It’s all about workplaces and workplace issues,” said Maríanna Clara. “…We’re speaking out about human rights and [working] conditions in a broad sense.”

This year’s event is not only aiming to expand into rural areas across the country, but also to emphasise the importance of supporting immigrant women in Iceland who, per the website, “…in many cases lack the support networks native-born women have and are therefore especially vulnerable to violations of rights at the workplace and violence.” As part of this effort, website resources and materials were translated by volunteers into fourteen languages, including full version translations into English and Polish, and partial translations into Albanian, Chinese, Czech, French, Greek, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish.

Maríanna Clara says that Kvennafrí has attracted the attention of organisers in other countries as well. “Women in Norway have been in touch with us, as have women in Poland, Italy, and Germany. We decided, since there was a call for it, to have a slogan in English, too: ‘Don’t Change Women, Change the World.’”

Former EFTA Chairman Takes Over as Temporary CEO of Reykjavík Energy

Helga Jónsdóttir, a former chairman of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is temporarily stepping in as CEO of Reykjavík Energy, RÚV reports. Helga’s two-month appointment was unanimously approved by the board. She is taking over for Bjarni Bjarnason, who temporarily stepped down while the organization conducts an investigation of its “workplace culture.”

Bjarni Bjarnason has been implicated in a still-unfolding workplace harassment scandal which originally centered around the “inappropriate behaviour” of Bjarni Már Júlíusson, the former CEO of ON Power, which is a subsidiary of Reykjavík Energy. Bjarni Már has been fired from his position, while Bjarni Bjarnason, his former boss, has been accused of knowingly turning a blind eye to his behavior.

According to former employee Áslaug Thelma Einarsdóttir, she spoke up about the CEO’s misogynistic behaviour over a period of 18 months and was fired for doing so. In a Facebook post, Áslaug claimed that Bjarni Bjarnason had known about her several complaints for months but done nothing about them because Bjarni Már ‘had been running the company so well’.