Smelter Workers Strike, Bosses Attempt To Replace Them - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Smelter Workers Strike, Bosses Attempt To Replace Them

Published February 24, 2016

Photos by
Haukur Herbertsson/Creative Commons

Workers at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter went on strike at midnight last night, bringing aluminium exports from the smelter to a halt. Management is hoping to do the jobs of the employees, but who may work where is being disputed.

The workers involved all belong to the trade union Hlíf, who oversee the export division of Rio Tinto Alcan in Iceland. With the start of these stoppages, no aluminium produced at the smelter will be offloaded, distributed, or shipped out to other countries, effectively rendering any aluminium production superfluous.

Gylfi Ingvarsson, a spokesperson for the workers at the smelter, told RÚV that their understanding of the law is that only the CEO and the managing director can take part in any of these jobs.

Officials from Hlíf agreed, telling Vísir that anyone but these two people doing the jobs of striking workers would constitute strike-breaking, also known as scabbing, which is against the law in Iceland. Striking workers are currently at the plant to ensure that no scabbing takes place.

Management, for their part, disagree that only the top two people at the company can scab, and have elicited the help of other plant managers. RÚV reports that the offloading of aluminium was attempted, which the President of the Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions, Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, says constitutes illegal scabbing. Workers have stepped in, and reportedly stopped the offloading.

Workers at the smelter have been in negotiations with management since at least 2014, where they have been fighting for wage increases. It was forecast that the smelter would be shut down altogether last December, but workers were convinced to continue negotiations with management.

These negotiations have not advanced; in fact, Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh recently issued a statement that employees would not be receiving any kind of pay raise this year – despite the company seeing profits in the billions last year.

“We are actually going nowhere because there’s nothing to negotiate,” Guðmundur Ragnarsson, the chairperson of The Icelandic Union of Marine Engineers and Metal Technicians (VM), told reporters at the time. “We’ve been waiting to hear what the parent company intends to do in Iceland. So we’re at a stand-still.”

With upper management unwilling to introduce wage increases, and workers unwilling to continue employment under their current salaries, how the conflict will be resolved still remains to be seen.

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