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Hot spring and summer for Iceland’s collective bargaining

Hot spring and summer for Iceland’s collective bargaining

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir, foto: Arnþór Birkisson

Iceland’s newly appointed state mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson had no easy task when he started work on 1 April 2020. The corona pandemic had a brutal effect on Iceland’s economy. Challenging mediating tasks included wage negotiations for cabin crew, nurses and upper secondary school teachers.

The loudest conflict centred on Icelandair, whose CEO Bogi Nils Bogason threatened to fire all cabin crew and negotiate with a different trade union from theirs. 

The negotiations between Icelandair and the cabin crew’s trade union Flugfreyjufélagi Íslands took much of Aðalsteinn Leifsson’s time and energy during the spring and summer.

Aðalsteinn Leifsson

State mediator Aðalsteinn Leifsson, photo: State Conciliation and Mediation Office. 

“What is special about the negotiations with the cabin crew’s union is that the corona pandemic had such an effect on the company and the future outlook for tourism,” says Aðalsteinn Leifsson.

The enterprise Icelandair has faced enormous problems since the start of the pandemic, both with employers, authorities, creditors and Boeing. Aðalsteinn Leifsson does not want to comment on particular negotiations. 

But the company’s negotiations with cabin crew this spring was obviously impacted by the fact that there were no tourists in Iceland. The situation was so difficult that Icelandair threatened to boycott the cabin crew’s union and negotiate with a different cabin crew union instead.

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour ASÍ accused Icelandair of not following the rules and argued that unless they did, the company should not receive state aid. 

Bogi Nils Bogason

Bogi Nils Bogason, CEO of  Icelandair, photo: Arnþór Birkisson.

Icelandair has now been given a state guarantee worth 15 billion Icelandic krónur (€90.8m).

But the spring negotiations were not easy generally. This was partly because of the corona pandemic, which meant negotiation delegations could not meet due to social distancing rules for meetings. 

People did show a positive attitude towards using new methods, however.

“We had to organise remote meetings in order to continue the negotiations. We used modern technology to do this,” says Aðalsteinn Leifsson.

The remote meeting solution worked well to begin with while the negotiation delegations presented their demands and interests. But when solutions were debated, the remote meetings did not work as well. It was necessary to meet face-to-face.

“We met in small groups in big rooms where it was possible to respect the two-meter rule and other regulations. Sometimes we were only three plus three people in meetings. The negotiators later met their colleagues in different rooms to discuss with them,” explains Aðalsteinn Leifsson.

The collective agreement in Iceland was entered into 18 months ago. Since then, there have been separate negotiations with various trade unions, sometimes with help from the state mediator. Right now the future of the collective agreement is being debated, to find out whether it has worked as intended or ought to be revised.


The State Conciliation and Mediation Officer, Ríkissáttasemjari in Icelandic, is a public officer appointed for a term of five years by the Minister of Social Affairs and Equality to help mediate industrial disputes between trade unions and employers. His position is grounded in the Act on Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes of 1938.

The State Conciliation and Mediation Officer:

  • acts as an intermediary between the disputing parties, assists in their deliberations and helps in finding common ground between them.
  • monitors wage developments and prospects throughout the country as well as issues that could be a source of dispute between employers and unions.
  • keeps a record of all wage agreements in effect in the country.
“An attempt to crush the trade union”

Frustrated cabin crew (above) gathered for a meeting during wage negotiations with Icelandair. The Icelandic trade union got support from the Nordic Transport Workers' Federation:

“According to the information we received from our Icelandic affiliate FFÍ, the Icelandic press has cited from a reliable source that Icelandair plans to solve the negotiations for the renewal of a collective agreement for its cabin crew by changing the negotiating union. We strongly condemn the plan and advice the company to withdraw from it. We have seen similar union-busting moves from other countries and the result is never good, for any party involved.”


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