Massive Strike In The Works In Iceland - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Massive Strike In The Works In Iceland

Published February 21, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Collective bargainging negotiations between unions and management have broken down, and preparations are now underway to strike. The vast majority of workers in one of these unions have already indicated that they view going on strike favourably.

According to an announcement from Efling, Iceland’s general labourers union, along with the Store and Office Workers’ Union (VR), the Grindavík Labour Union and the Akranes Labour Union, negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) have reached an impasse. As such, these talks are over, and preparations are now underway for a strike.

Negotiations between the government and the Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions (ASÍ) broke down last Tuesday. The talks went so poorly, in fact, that Vil­hjálmur Birgis­son, one of ASÍ’s vice chairs and also the head of the Akranes Labour Union, reportedly walked out of the meeting when he learned what the government wanted to offer in arbitration.

With VR ready to exert financial pressure in order to cap rent increases on their workers, and some 80% of workers in Efling, Iceland’s general labourers union, ready to go on strike, the unions appear ready to use many tools to advance their demands, and have a strong base of support from their workers.

An earlier joint statement from these four unions, posted on Efling’s website, states in no uncertain terms that they “stand united and steadfast in their demand that workers should be able to live off their wages and that the government should make long overdue systemic changes in the direction of justice.”

As reported, amongst their demands, apart from fair rental practices, is that the minimum wage be increased by about 40%, to 425,000 ISK per month before taxes. Both management and Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson have claimed that there is no room for wage increases. However, just before Parliament went on Christmas break, MPs generously awarded themselves a 20% payout to parliamentary parties after having already doubled that payout in 2018. Further, they also allowed themselves to hire 17 new assistants over the next three years, at a cost of 250 million ISK per year.

The strike, which could start in a matter of days or weeks, has been a long time coming, as Efling in particular has been deeply unsatisfied with management’s offers.

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