Sólveig Anna doubt’s that the backbone of SA is marching in line (Video)

“I think the reason why the Confederation of Employers has changed its stance has nothing to do with Grindavík. I think they may have just signaled too much positivity in the beginning, which was perhaps not fully supported amid their ranks.”

This is what Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the chairman of Efling, says about whether the natural disaster in Grindavík and the foreseen need for support for the residents has caused the Confederation of Employers (SA) to tighten the tone in the collective bargaining negotiations with the Union Alliance. A shift in negotiations ultimately caused the Union Alliance to decide to refer the wage dispute to the state mediator.

Sólveig Anna was a guest at the Red Table (Rauða borðið), a program hosted by Gunnar Smári Egilsson on Samstöðin yesterday. There she reviewed the status of wage negotiations and prospects. The interview can be found at the bottom of this article. Sadly no subtitles are available. 

Sólveig Anna said that it was in a way positive that the dispute had been sent to the state mediator, thereby creating a certain framework for future talks. “Of course, this also means that if talks between parties do not succeed we can formally break them up, and of course everyone knows what that means,” said Sólveig Anna. Was she referring to the fact that if no agreement is reached in the dispute, the unions could resort to the strike weapon, to force wage increases.

By referring the wage dispute to the state mediator a certain chain of events is set in motion. If no agreement can be reached the Union Alliance can declare that negotiations are ineffective and then start actions as a prelude to calling strikes. Strikes may not be called unless a wage dispute has been referred to the state mediator first, according to the Act on Trade Unions and Labor Disputes.

Thinks SA was sincere in its approach

Sólveig Anna said that the Union alliance came to the negotiations very well prepared, both in terms of the implementation of proposals for the restoration of the transfer systems but also in terms of other aspects of the collective bargaining negotiations. “We attended the first meeting in earnest, with well-prepared proposals that we presented. And I think that SA has also been very serious, even though we have reached this point now.”

Gunnar Smári then mentioned that SA had changed course in the negotiations, and Sólveig Anna admitted that. “We sensed a good tone at the meeting we had between Christmas and New Year.” Negotiations did go okay at first, but then started to get tougher.

Gunnar Smári then asked Sólveig Anna if she thought the change of tune was due to the situation in Grindavík, or if there was simply not full support within the SA for entering into an agreement with the Union Alliance, based on its conditions.

“I think the reason why the Confederation of Employers has changed its stance has nothing to do with Grindavík. I think they may have just signaled too much positivity in the beginning, which was perhaps not fully supported amid their ranks,” Sólveig Anna said and mentioned that SA’s backbone was presumably both complicated and difficult. “All kinds of Icelandic capitalists have all kinds of interests, that don’t necessarily all go together.”

There are many indications that the backbone of SA is just walking the same path. Gunnar Smári mentioned in that context that some companies have shown positive response about the Union Alliance’s propositions while others have not. Sólveig Anna agreed to this. “Of course, in my opinion, it is a signal that they are not marching in sync.”

SA’s demands absurd

Sólveig Anna says that the conversation with SA’s negotiating committee has started to revolve around the need to include runaway wage drift in the cost estimates for the collective bargaining agreement, and also that it would be undesirable to make contracts based on flat wage raises. The latter is the main requirement in the Union Alliance demands.

“Of course, we rejected this, we said that it was not possible to add runaway wage drift on top of the cost estimate. That would be an absurd approach and unheard of. We are negotiating a minimum wage in the labor market, we are not negotiating a runaway wage drift for higher-paid groups. We also stated that flat wage increases were a non-negotiational demand.”

Sólveig Anna says that the wage demands of the Union Alliance are very moderate, but for that reason, the government needs to be involved. The Union Alliance doesn’t want to sign collective agreements that act like oil on the fire of inflation. In the same way, the Union Alliance has no desire for the government’s contribution to end up worthless, again. The Union Alliance intends to conclude long-term agreements, for at least three years, where conditions are created for inflation to decrease and for the government to be able to do what it is supposed to do, to restore the transfer systems, the children’s, housing and interest compensation systems, so that they function as they should.

Hopes the political parties seize the chance

Gunnar Smári then mentioned that the government had been sending messages, among others Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and Bjarni Benediktsson, vice-chairman and chairman of Sjálfstæðisflokkur, that due to the situation in Grindavík et all, it was not at all certain that the treasury would have anything to spare for working people. “One arm of the government is sending this message,” Anna Sólveig answered. She pointed out that Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn certainly had a very hard ideological approach in theory, but it was often the case that by talks the party softened its position somewhat.

“I believe that both Vinstri græn and Framsókn see that there are great opportunities in concluding a good agreement with the labor movement. I believe that in the end, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn will stop this ideological struggle, get down to earth, and work together with everyone here to conclude a good collective agreement. Which they can then both boast about politically, and of course, the consequences will be that it will also be easier for the public sector to finalize the remaining collective agreements,” says Sólveig Anna. She points out that the restoration of the transfer systems would benefit everyone in the labor market.

If the government or SA does not accept its responsibility, it will cause the labor movement to be forced to make a short-term agreement with much higher wage increases than the Union Alliance has now offered. Such an agreement would have the effect that inflation would not decrease and it would not be possible to lower interest rates in the country. “Possibly, Icelandic politics has become so alienated that it believes that this is a better and wiser way to follow. It just has to be revealed.”