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Strikes May Reach 70,000 Workers in Iceland

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Strikes May Reach 70,000 Workers in Iceland

Construction will be affected for the next 48 hours because of SGS’ strike, among other consequences. Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

More unions are planning strikes, VR Trade Union, the Commercial Federation of Iceland (LÍV), Flóabandalagið, the umbrella organization for labor unions in Southwest Iceland, and the Icelandic Nurses’ Association, which may lead to 70,000 people in Iceland striking as of next month. It would be the most wide-reaching strikes the country has seen in decades.

According to Statistics Iceland, there are approximately 176,000 people on the Icelandic labor market, which means that if the wage disputes remain unsolved and the planned strikes will be approved by the majority of the unions’ members, almost 40 percent of workers in Iceland will be on strike as of the beginning of June.

At midnight a 48-hour full-scale strike began among the members of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), reaching approximately 10,000 workers in 2,000 companies outside the capital region, mbl.is reports.

Negotiations between SGS and Business Iceland (SA), a service organization for Icelandic businesses, ended in disagreement yesterday, ruv.is reports.

SA claims to have offered a 23.5-percent increase of the basic salary, with the lowest salary increasing by ISK 47,000 (USD 358, EUR 318) per month in the next three years.

This contradicts the claim of SGS that SA’s offer included an ISK 28,000 increase of the lowest monthly salary. SGS is demanding that the minimum salary be ISK 300,000 (USD 2,283, EUR 2,032) per month.

Eyjan reports that SA offered pilots an ISK 310,000 monthly increase of their salaries last December.

As a consequence of SGS’ strike, there will be no operations at dairies, fish processing and other food processing plants for two days, and various services, including tourism, transport and construction, will be impacted.

A strike among members of the Association of Academics (BHM) is ongoing and will continue for an indefinite period. Those who have been striking the longest have now started their 30th day off work, including medical professionals, visir.is reports.

With x-ray technicians and biomedical scientists on strike, x-rays and various research cannot be carried out at hospitals, affecting the treatment of cancer patients, among others. Midwives are also on strike but exemptions have been granted for certain cases, including c-sections.

Lawyers at the District Commissioner’s Office in Reykjavík are striking too, which means that property contracts cannot be notarized, mortgages won’t go through, and marriages and divorces cannot be finalized, among other effects.

Further disturbances caused by BHM’s strike include the slaughtering of animals and import of meat as veterinarians who approve and supervise the processes are on strike. As of next week consumers may be facing a shortage of certain meat products in stores.

Chair of BHM’s negotiation committee Páll Halldórsson told ruv.is that the members of BHM won’t accept the 3.5-percent pay raise the state is offering. “Agreements which have been made lately have been long-term and included something like 10 percent per year, which is of course something that we are looking towards.”

In January, doctors in Iceland accepted an offer from the state of pay raises of 20 percent or more after the first strikes in the history of the Icelandic Medical Association.

Without going into details of their demands, BHM asks that education be valued. Páll maintains that the state has the capacity for committing to substantial salary increases.

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson responded to an enquiry from Left-Green chair Kartín Jakobsdóttir regarding to the strikes in parliament on Monday that the state won’t “toss … logs on the inflation fire,” mbl.is reports.

Sigmundur reasoned that salary increases beyond what the state has offered BHM will cause the inflation to spin out of control, eating up the pay raises.

Isavia, which runs the airports in Iceland, published a listing on their website (in Icelandic) of possible disturbances to flights and related tourism services as a consequence of strikes planned by VR and related associations as of May 29, including fly bus schedules, operations of hotels and check-in services.

If wage disputes remain unsolved, the schedule of flights may be affected from midnight on May 31 to midnight on June 1, and after June 6, Isavia points out. Passengers are advised to follow developments and contact their airlines for further information.

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