Management managed to load some 3,000 tonnes of aluminium onto out-bound ships, and unions are awaiting further negotiations.
RÚV reports that last Tuesday the County Seat allowed Rio Tinto Alcan to let 15 members of management at the smelter conduct the offloading of aluminium from the plant onto ships bound for export. The workers who actually do this job are currently on strike.
While by Icelandic law, replacing striking workers is illegal, the law does allow exceptions to be made; namely, for members of management to replace such workers, albeit to a limited capacity. Today, some 3,000 tonnes of aluminium were put on ships for export, which Rio Tinto Alcan spokesperson Ólafur Teitur Guðnason described as “an ample portion” of the amount that would have been exported.
Union workers have not been pleased with the scabbing, Vísir reports. Guðmundur Ragnarsson, the chairperson of The Icelandic Union of Marine Engineers and Metal Technicians (VM), condemned the practice, pointing out that “one of the cornerstones of the labour struggle in Iceland is the demand that the same salary is paid for the same work” – meanwhile, management are making millions of krónur each month while doing jobs that pay far less.
“These are naturally people who only work in offices, and aren’t used to this kind of work,” Kolbeinn Gunnarsson, the chairperson of the trade union Hlíf, which represents the striking harbour workers, told reporters. “One is probably most afraid of the safety issues there, as people are usually given comprehensive training over the course of two days in this line of work.”
As reported, 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 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.”
At the time of this writing, unions are waiting for the state arbitrator to decide when the next negotiations meeting will be. 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.