Efling and Reykjavík city signed a collective agreement last night, March 10, 2020, after more than a month of strikes and hard negotiations at the state mediator’s office. The agreement is an important step towards correcting the wages of women’s jobs and of those who earn the least. Efling strikes in Reykjavík are over.

The agreement raises the lowest wages of Efling members by up to 112,000kr during the contract’s term for full-time workers. Raises over and above the 90,000kr, prefigured in last year’s collective agreements, are achieved by a change to the wage table that raises salaries on average by 7,800kr for all Efling members in the city. In addition, a special payment to the lowest paid workers is added.

This payment is 15,000kr at the bottom of the table and peters out at higher salaries. It applies to 26 job titles of Efling which don’t have a special payment already. It will be seen in reverse proportion to the basic salary by nearly three quarters of Efling workers in the city.

The agreement provides various improvements apart from salary increases, such as a shorter working week, both for daytime and shift workers. The right to 10 hours of overtime pay for kindergarten workers is now incorporated into the agreement in the form of a lump sum. Course attendance and education are given greater weight in determining workers’ salaries.

Efling views the contract as a victory after a long and hard fight and strikes over the propriety of the union’s demands.

The contract applies to about 1,850 Efling workers in the city. Most of them are women doing traditionally underpaid women’s jobs such as care, cleaning, washing and cooking. Others work e.g. in road maintenance and garbage collection. The contract’s term is until March 31, 2023.

A fight by and for the members

The strikes, which were agreed to by 96% of ballots cast, began in early February with two- and three-day strikes until February 17, when an indefinite strike started. During the strike, the union held many rallies and meetings with active participation by members and supporters. Many speakers and musicians showed their support by participating.

The struggle was kept visible and was maintained by members, many of whom came forward in interviews, ads and videos to explain their life and livelihood. Members and Efling staff joined hands in patrolling the strike.

The negotiations were a matter of heated societal debate. Powerful interest groups, such as the employers’ association, SA, tried to beat down the fight for wage corrections by a heavy media campaign.

It was the position of the Efling negotiation committee to agree to the adoption of last year’s private sector agreements as a framework for an agreement with Reykjavík, but it also made the case for a wage correction due to low gross wages, increased strain at work and gendered discrimination suffered by Efling workers in the city. Efling drew attention to promises made by the city council’s majority to fix that imbalance.

A new chapter in Icelandic labour history

A large negotiating committee on the side of Efling, with representatives from all occupational groups, participated in the negotiations along with the head of the union and union staff. A large group of union representatives from all the city’s workplaces for Efling members met every morning at the union’s HQ to coordinate. These meetings were marked by the group’s solidarity, and the solidarity of the strikers.

“Women who were previously kept silent, and whom few showed any interest, stepped forward with their head held high and put the shame of low-wage policies where it belongs. Low-waged women have an indescribable strength which they utilized to fight for a better life, instead of sacrificing their entire life to clean up after others,” said Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, head of Efling.

“The institutional powers were united against us. We were to be beat into submission, as we have been for decades. But Efling members in the city have news for the elite, and all of society: When workers come together in solidarity, with a willingness to fight for their lot, nothing can stop them. They have written a new chapter into Icelandic labour history,” Sólveig Anna said.

Low-wage workers in Iceland have stepped from the shadows. They have shown the importance of their work, and the justice of their call for a dignified life. It has brought some gains, but it has only just begun.

With the signing of the agreement, strikes in the city are over. The agreement will now be presented to members and voted on.

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