An agreement can be reached but Efling members are ready for strike if necessary

Solveig Anna

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, chairman of Efling, hopes that the negotiations on a new collective agreement will move in the right direction at today’s meeting of the conflicting parties. The Union Alliance has made concessions regarding some of its demands at the negotiating table but is unyielding on others, such as the fact that there must be strong prerequisite clauses in the agreement. She sincerely believes that a solution can be found on that matter. However, Efling’s members are more than ready to play hardball and strike if they have to in order to enforce fair and reasonable compensation. Surveys conducted among members show this clearly.

These are among the statements Sólveig Anna made in an interview with The Morning Radio on Rás 2 this morning. The Union Alliance negotiating committee and the Confederation of Employers (SA)  were called to a negotiation meeting at the state mediator’s office at nine o’clock this morning. The meeting was an SA initiative, and Sólveig Anna believes that there will almost certainly be discussions at the meeting about the prerequisite clauses. As is known those were the main cause for The Union Alliance’s decision to break off negotiations. SA’s view of the prerequisite clauses was far from The Union Alliance’s, to put it mildly, Sólveig Anna said.

“Absolutely unnecessary” to drive the talks into a ditch

Asked if she had reason to expect success in the dispute today, Sólveig Anna replied that the state mediator had declared that a meeting would not be called unless he believed that it would be possible to take the talks in the right direction. It would therefore give reason for optimism that the meeting had been called today. “I hope that we will get back on track and get out of this ditch that the talks were driven into. It was absolutely unnecessary in my opinion,” said Sólveig Anna.

Sólveig said that it was obvious when looking at history, that strong prerequisite clauses were necessary in collective agreements to protect workers. The Union Alliance’s offer in the current negotiations was to make a real attempt to lower interest rates and inflation. To that end, The Union Alliance has offered, and accepted, moderate wage increases in long-term contracts. However, if it is not possible to bring down interest rates and inflation and bring the economic environment to a bearable level, workers cannot be locked into long-term contracts that contain only low wage increases. It is obvious. Therefore, strong and clear prerequisite clauses are needed in the collective agreement.

Sólveig Anna stated that tying prerequisite clauses to the Central Bank’s interest rate does not affect the independence of the bank in the slightest, even though SA attempted to claim so. The Governor of the Central Bank has himself stated that such prerequisite clauses have no effect. It fits perfectly with the legal opinion that Efling requested and had made as well. That’s why it was surprising that this became a dispute in the negotiations, Sólveig Anna said.

Asked what her expectations were for today’s meeting, Sólveig Anna said that she hoped that negotiations would move forward. Asked further if The Union Alliance would possibly agree to give in to SA’s demands in order to reach an agreement, Sólveig Anna stated that it had already been done. However, The Union Alliance was steadfast regarding other demands, like the prerequisite clauses. “I sincerely believe that we can find a solution to this issue, regarding the prerequisite clauses,” says Sólveig, adding that it should be possible to do so quickly.

Positive messages from the government

Asked if the representatives of the labor unions had been assured that the government would play a part in the collective agreement, Sólveig Anna affirmed so. “The government has made it very clear to us that they understand at least some of our demands and are ready to accommodate us,” she said, adding that it was absolutely necessary. The Union Alliance demands that the public transfer systems have to be restored, otherwise, it would not be possible to reach an agreement. However, it remains to be seen what the government will bring to the table as the parties have not yet put pen to paper.

Ready to strike if necessary

Sólveig Anna also said that if negotiations don’t prove fruitful in this round, actions will be taken to the next level, referring to the use of strikes. Efling has commissioned a survey on the will of certain groups of members to strike to push for compensation. Among them are cleaners, who research shows have some of the worst living conditions in Iceland. Most of them are immigrant women. The result of that survey was that 80 percent of them were ready to strike in order to reach a better collective agreement.

Asked if, in the event of a strike, it would be a collective strike by The Union Alliance, Sólveig replied that she firmly counted on coordinated actions. “But I want to state that it is our will to reach an agreement. We are still at the point where we believe it can happen. But we at Efling are ready to take the next step quickly if it comes to that. After all, as most people know, Efling has gained a lot of experience in the last few years in preparing strike actions. It has never happened since I took over as chairman in 2018 that Efling’s members are not ready to strike to improve their living conditions.”