Fatal Accident in Reykjanesbær, Investigation Underway

Small boat fishermen crowd the Arnarstapi harbour each summer for the coastal fishing season

A fatal workplace accident occurred yesterday at Fitjabraut in Reykjanesbær, Vísir reports. An investigation is currently underway.

Reports of a loud explosion

Yesterday morning, a fatal workplace accident occurred at Fitjabraut in Reykjanesbær. Vísir reports that police received a call about the incident at 11:27 AM, and emergency services quickly arrived at the scene.

“The responders confirmed upon arrival that the accident was fatal. An investigation is currently ongoing, and further details are not available at this moment,” stated the Suðurnes Police.

Vísir’s sources indicated that a loud explosion was heard at the time of the accident. Fitjabraut, where the incident took place, is mainly an industrial area located near Reykjanesbær’s harbour.

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.

Iceland’s Parliament Reschedules Sessions, Opens Nursery To Be a More Family-friendly Workplace

Parliament nursery

A nursery, complete with a diaper change facility, has been opened at the first floor of Iceland’s Parliament building. Secretary-General of Alþingi Ragna Árnadóttir told Vísir that this is a good step towards making Parliament a more family-friendly workplace. Parliamentary sessions have also recently been rescheduled in order to shorten workweek and increase predictability for parliament staff.

The Nest

Ragna states that the nursery was opened in order to better meet the needs of staff and members of Parliament who have small children, as well as new parents. “It’s a step to meet people’s needs and a natural development,” Ragna states. Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna ævarsdóttir posted photos of the room on Facebook today. The room is on the Parliament building’s ground floor and is called The Nest. Þórhildur thanked parliament staff for their efforts, stating that she looked forward to spending time with your young one there, as soon as they were born.

Þórhildur is not the only MP who will be able to use the room, as Pirate Party MP Halldóra Mogensen had a child in November and is now on parental leave. Both of them intend to stand for election next September so the nursery might prove useful when they return to work.

Shortened workweek for parliament staff

The nursery is not the only effort Parliament is making to become a more family-friendly workplace as recent changes to parliamentary session schedules are intended to shorten the workweek and make the work easier on family life. Parliamentary sessions that used to start Wednesdays at three pm will now begin at 1 pm. Committee meetings will take place on Mondays to increase the predictability of parliamentary sessions. This will alleviate strain on staff and make it possible to end parliamentary sessions before eight pm.

The Speaker of Parliament Steingrímur J. Sigfússon told RÚV that they’re making an effort so that a shortened workweek will become reality. “The goal is of course that the shortened workweek will result in an actual shorter workweek without losing productivity.” He hopes that this will make Parliament a more family-friendly workplace, although there will always be a certain unpredictability concerning the workdays. “It’s inevitable. It’s how legislative work works but we see parliaments in countries around us making similar changes, concentrating the workload in the middle of the workweek so that people are more likely to get the weekends off, and so on.” He added that the success of the changes will be estimated around easter.

Parliament staff working conditions attracted attention during the Centre Party’s filibuster in November 2019. Staff worked around 3,000 hours of overtime as parliamentary sessions stretched into the night.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Contact Tracing is Key to Taming Third Wave

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

“Cautiously optimistic” was how Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason described his perspective on the ongoing third wave of COVID-19 infections at a briefing in Reykjavík today. Authorities know where the wave originated, says Þórólfur, the contact tracing team has a good overview on cases, and has also been successful in locating minor outbreaks. Þórólfur added, however, that his optimism has proved unwarranted in the past and that individual preventative measures such as handwashing and social distancing remain key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Iceland.

Iceland reported 30 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, and the number has been dropping since reaching a high of 75 two days ago. More than half of case in recent days can be traced to bars and clubs in Reykjavík, which have been ordered to remain closed until September 27.  The total number of active cases currently sits at 242.

Emphasis on Employer Responsibility

At today’s briefing, authorities emphasised employers’ responsibility in minimising the risk of virus spread in the workplace. This should be done by separating employees into smaller groups at larger workplaces, as well as ensuring communal areas are regularly cleaned and sterilised. Furthermore, employers were encouraged to allow staff to work from home as much as possible.

Mask Use Encouraged, Not Mandatory

In workplaces where one-metre distancing is not possible, mask use is encouraged. The same applies to secondary schools and universities. While mask use in these circumstances is not required by law, Þórólfur emphasised that schools should set regulations according to their individual circumstances, and those should be respected. He added that authorities are not recommending general mask use “out on the streets,” rather only in situations where masks have been proven effective in reducing and preventing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Iceland Review live tweets Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefings.

Occupational Burnout Can Have Long-Term Effects on Physical and Mental Health

Westman Islands fish processing plant

About a third of people who suffered from occupational burnout haven’t recovered seven years later, RÚV reports. This was among the findings discussed at a conference on burnout, stress, and working environments that was held by the Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB) on Friday.

“There’s something physical and probably also something to do with brain functioning tha occurs and has these long-term effects. This is an immense cause for concern and tells me that prevention is the first, second, and third thing,” says Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir, a professor who studies stress therapy at the University of Gothenburg.

Ingibjörg says that Icelanders try to take on too much in their professional and private lives, which leads to a risk of burning out. “If life is a high jump, then it’s like you’ve set the bar way too high in terms of what you really can jump.” She continued by saying that Icelanders need to take preventative measures against occupational burnout and make changes in people’s work environments, rather than focusing solely on the consequences that burnout has for individuals. “Going through all that needs to be fixed and shifting the emphasis from only individuals at work, starting to determine what it is in the work environment that is not working,”—this is what needs to be done, she says, to effectively address this problem.

‘I Was Just Really Afraid of Being a Deadbeat’

Musician and actress Sigríður Eir Zophoníasardóttir says that there is a lot of pressure on people to work hard and perform well. “It’s ingrained in you really early to work hard and that work is both what defines us and what brings us distinction. And so I was just really afraid of being a deadbeat,” she remarked. Two years ago, she pushed herself in her work and took on all kinds of projects, on top of caring for an infant child. Finally, she hit a wall.

“Physically, I had insane muscle inflammation and a pinched nerve in my back that had started to force itself up to my head and down again. I had lost a bit of strength in my right hand and had chronic headaches and buzzing in my ears,” she recalled. She slept badly, had indigestion, back pain, and disliked being in social situations.

Mental Effects No Less Pronounced Than Physical Ones

“The ironic thing is that we were putting together a radio play about burnout, so I knew all about it,” said Sigríður.

After suffering a “minor nervous breakdown,” Sigríður took three months’ sick leave during which she didn’t work at all. She noticed that the mental side-effects of burnout were just as pronounced as the physical ones: “I lost interest in all sorts of things that I had enjoyed before.” Slowly, and with time, she began to recover, finally returning to the things that used to bring her pleasure, namely music and theatre.

The experience of burnout is one that’s stuck with her, however: “It was a very sad experience to find everything that I was doing ridiculously difficult and boring.”

Burnout on the Rise Among Young People

Young people, and more particularly, young women, are experiencing higher levels of burnout at work, RÚV reports. According to Linda Bára Lýðsdóttir, a psychologist at the Virk Vocational Rehabilitation Fund, anxiety and depression are on the rise, even as employment conditions are largely positive for a good portion of the nation. This increase used to be particularly prevalent among workers over the age of 40, but recent studies show that it is now becoming more common among younger people.

“This is a problem for everyone, but there’s increasing incidence among young people, and especially young women,” explains Linda. “It’s a cause for concern. I have a recent study from Britain – tens of thousands of people took part in their study – and in it, they point to the incidence of depression and anxiety disorders among young women rising a great deal nowadays, while it’s fairly stable among men.” She says that this is a problem in Iceland as well. “I don’t think we’re any exception there. This happens in most welfare states today.”

Professional environments that could be considered “women’s workplaces” are also particularly vulnerable to burnout, Linda continues. “We’re seeing burnout in a large proportion of women’s workplaces,” she says, “in the fields of education and health care and it’s more or less women who work there.”

It’s been speculated that this burnout could be connected to Iceland’s financial collapse ten years ago, says Linda, as the crash put increased pressure on people to work harder and overcome their economic straits. At the time, a great deal of emphasis was placed on keeping a close eye on children and it was said that attention would need to be paid to these young people’s wellbeing seven to ten years in the future, which is to say: now.

There’s been a great deal of discussion of late in regards to shortening Icelanders’ work hours, but Linda says that this is not necessarily the best solution. The issue, she says, is people’s workload, and nothing will be solved if workers are simply responsible for the same amount of work in a shorter time frame.