From Iceland — Icelandic Midwives' Overtime Strike Begins At Midnight

Icelandic Midwives’ Overtime Strike Begins At Midnight

Published July 17, 2018

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Midwives are preparing to stop working overtime from midnight tonight, but sources close to Grapevine report that the ongoing labour dispute is already causing considerable trouble, for new mothers and other hospital staff alike.

While a Supreme Court lawyer believes the government can pass legislation preventing them from striking, both the Minister of Health and the Directorate of Health have said they do not believe this is the right response. Meanwhile, while the Minister of Finance has repeatedly claimed the money does not exist to pay the midwives a higher salary, members of Parliament have themselves received a 45% pay rise.

RÚV reports that Iceland’s midwives are preparing to stop working overtime, starting at midnight tonight. Sources close to Grapevine report that the ongoing labour dispute has resulted in new mothers being sent home from the hospital early, often without the necessary information and counseling that midwives provide. As a result, some of these new mothers return to the hospital, asking other hospital staff how to get their babies to nurse, for example, further increasing the workload on an already overworked staff.

Supreme Court lawyer Lára V. Júlíusdóttir told reporters that she believes the government could pass legislation forbidding the midwives from refusing to take overtime, reflecting a similar statement last May from the Ministry of Finance that “midwives that they are state employees and have therefore no choice on whether or not they take extra shifts”. However, Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir believes that now is not the time to force midwives to work overtime, and the Directorate of Health, while contending that such a legislative measure could provide a short-term solution, would not resolve the situation in the long run.

Becoming a midwife requires six years of schooling; four years of nursing school and two more years to specialise in midwifery. Despite this, they are actually paid less than nurses. While Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson has repeatedly said that the money does not exist to give midwives a pay rise, Fréttatíminn has reported that members of Parliament and government ministers recently were awarded 45% pay rises.

Arbitration between the midwives and the state is likely to continue, but the ball is now in the government’s court in resolving the situation.

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