Published June 16, 2015
Parliament passed a law commanding striking nurses go back to work, resulting in mass resignations and criticism of the law as “completely unnecessary”.
Last Sunday, parliament passed a law ordering striking nurses to go 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. During this time, they are expressly forbidden to engage in any strikes, work stoppages, lockouts, or any other action authorities could deem as organised worker action against management.
The measure is not only completely at odds with Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s own position less than three years ago on the nurses’ demands – it has also set off a chain reaction of resignations that are still ongoing, prompting harsh criticism of the government not just from the nurses’ union but from hospital officials, who say that the law is unnecessary and will prove burdensome on the health care system in general.
At the time of this writing, an entire shift of ICU nurses at Landspítali have resigned, as well as a slew of X-ray specialists, with a third of those who worked at Landspítali quitting in the past month alone. In fact, 42 nurses put in the resignations on Monday, and more are expected to be on the way.
Sigríður Gunnarsdóttir, the managing director of nurses at Landspítali, told RÚV that the health care system cannot bear the burden of these resignations, adding that “there is a lot of anger and disappointment” amongst her colleagues that the strike was ended in this way.
The Association of Academics (BHM) have not just been critical of the legislation, with Kjarninn reporting union chairperson Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir saying that the legislation was “completely unnecessary” at this stage of the strike – RÚV also reports that BHM is planning to take the Icelandic government to court over the matter, arguing that the legislation violated the nurses’ constitutionally protected right to strike.
In the meantime, Vísir reports that journalist and writer María Lilja Þrastardóttir interprets the strike-breaking law as “a declaration of war from the patriarchy against women”, as nurses are predominantly comprised of women. In response, she has proposed that all working women in Iceland, at 11 o’ clock on every single working day, cease working for 15 minutes to an hour, and use that time instead to post their thoughts and ideas about the situation with the hastag #kvennafrí2015 (women’s holiday 2015).
The primary demand of the nurses is to receive a salary and benefits comparable not only to that of their colleagues in other Scandinavian countries – where many Icelandic nurses have already been heading – but also to that of other university educated workers. So far, no better offers have been made to the nurses to quell the resignations, or to entice them to remain in Iceland.