From Iceland — Union Says Management Counteroffer "Cuts To Our Wages And Conditions"

Union Says Management Counteroffer “Cuts To Our Wages And Conditions”

Published January 16, 2019

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Efling, one of Iceland’s largest labour unions, has sharply criticised management’s proposed counteroffers, saying they actually undermine worker’s rights.

Union representatives from Efling, VR, The Akranes Labour Union and the Grindavík Labour Union are currently in arbitration with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and a state representative, RÚV reports, kicking off what are expected to be tense labour negotiations. Just two hours after this news broke, Efling issued a press release, wherein they strongly criticise SA’s counterproposals to any actual wage increase.

“The biggest contribution of SA, the employers’ federation, to the collective bargaining in these last few months has been changing the rules surrounding working times,” the statement reads in part. “There are three themes: extending daytime working hours, selling out coffee breaks and reformed accounting of overtime hours. The ideas are said to be family-friendly and progressive. But what are they actually about?”

Efling points out that, by the outline of SA’s proposal on daytime working hours, this period would be extended from 7:00-17:00 to 6:00-19:00. By SA’s terms, workers would not be able to decline work in this time period nor have the right to overtime pay during it; daytime hours are normally precluded from overtime pay, which typically falls on evenings, nights, weekends and holidays.

“This would be a complete change in the way daytime hours currently work,” Efling says. “The current limits to daytime working hours are intended to harmonise with other public institutions, such as public transport and school hours. The proposed changes would make it much harder for the workers to coordinate these aspects of their daily life – and they wouldn’t gain anything in return.”

On the second point, SA would like to see breaks removed from the calculations for daytime work. They contend this would effectively shorten the work week, as workers could simply leave work earlier by foregoing taking a break. Efling rejects this proposal outright.

“In physically and mentally demanding jobs, such as those done by members of Efling and SGS unions, people need to take breaks,” the statement responds. “Demanding that people either buy a break or work themselves to exhaustion from the first minute to the last is not an improvement. It is an irresponsible fraud.”

Lastly, SA is proposing several significant changes to how overtime is calculated. Under their proposal, working more than eight hours per day would not automatically count as overtime. Employers would have the power to make overtime hours in one month count towards regular hours in the following month, and would oblige workers to take days off against overtime hours, instead of paying them for this time off—all proposals that Efling describes as “unheard of” and akin to “turn[ing] the wheels of history back to the 19th century”.

“In short, all of SA’s proposals on working hours are cuts to our wages and conditions,” Elfing concludes. “SA hasn’t been prepared to talk about general wage increases in the current negotiations, except as an emollient for these cuts. Accepting that exchange would be folly. Unlike krónur, our minutes and hours don’t go up and down in value with economic tides. They are the backbone of our collective agreements. That is why the labour movement has, for a century, put up front its demands on defining and limiting working hours. The benefits that brings aren’t measured in volatile krónur, but in absolute minutes, guaranteed against booms and busts.”

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