While parliament hotly debated a law that would force striking nurses back to work, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister went to the UEFA game.
A bill that would force striking nurses back to work – and then have an arbitration committee decide their new collective bargaining agreement if no agreement between nurses and management is reached by July 1 – was fervently fought in parliament yesterday, both for and against, Vísir reports.
Not only the constitutionally guaranteed right of workers to strike was at stake, though, as many MPs expressed confusion as to why Minister of Fisheries Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson gave the opening remarks for the bill. Traditionally, the Prime Minister introduces legislation about collective bargaining matters.
Striking nurses are asking to have pay and benefits comparable to nurses in other Scandinavian countries, where many Icelandic nurses are heading already. Stundin reports that one Icelandic nurse living in Norway, Erla Björk Birgisdóttir, put together a side-by-side comparison of what a nurse takes home for their job. Nurses in Norway are not only paid more than twice as much as Icelandic nurses, she said; their purchasing power is the same, they work shorter hours, receive child benefits that are not based on their incomes, and work in much better health conditions than their Icelandic counterparts.
As Ólafur G. Skúlason, the director of the Icelandic Nurses’ Association, told RÚV, legislating an end to the strike would not solve the problem, but would “add fuel to the fire” in driving nurses away from Iceland.
“I have heard from some nurses that if a law is passed [ordering them back to work], they will not accept this,” he said. “As I have said before, we are trying to ensure that we have nurses here in the long term, and have them working in Iceland. We are losing them to other professions, and to nursing jobs overseas, and I think that [this law] would just add fuel to the fire.”