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Supreme Court Sides with State over Academics’ Strike

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Supreme Court Sides with State over Academics’ Strike

Supreme Court of Iceland

Photo: Páll Kjartansson.

The Supreme Court of Iceland has sided with the District Court; saying that the government was legally entitled to enact the law which forced members of the BHM academics’ union back to work earlier this summer.

BHM is actually an umbrella organization of several unions of university educated professionals, including doctors, lawyers, vets, radiologists, and many others. BHM members went on a long strike this spring and early summer, which crippled hospitals, the food market, and the housing market, among other areas.

BHM has criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday; not only for the fact that it went against them, but also for its timing. The academics’ association believes the court ruling will reduce the impact of the tribunal committee findings in the case, which are due to be released today.

In upholding the District Court ruling, the Supreme Court found that the government is legally bound to take action to ensure the health service can function and provide essential services to the sick. The court found that despite certain strike exemptions, BHM had not done enough to make sure the health system could run at an acceptable bare minimum level and that the State was therefore justified in forcing its members back to work. All possibility of negotiating a mutually acceptable contract had been exhausted by the time the law was implemented.

Páll Halldórsson, head of the BHM negotiating committee, told Vísir that he is unhappy with the decision and that BHM is considering taking the matter further—possibly to the European Court of Human Rights. “There is great disappointment that Icelandic courts do not respect the right of unions to bargain collectively and follow the collective bargaining process through,” he says.

He also says BHM is concerned with the way in which the Supreme Court talks about the tribunal currently at work, using terms such as “so-called tribunal” and saying the committee has been given an “unfortunate” level of freedom to decide the length of any wage rise agreement; saying action will be taken if the committee is deemed to have used that freedom irresponsibly. Páll says it is clear the dispute between BHM and the State is still far from over.

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