Strikes – Q&A
1. What’s a strike?
A strike is when employees stop working in order to put pressure behind their demands in collective negotiations. Strikes can be limited and last for a short time, or they can apply to all members of a union and last an indefinite time — a general strike. Strike actions, either continuous or staggered, can last until the demands of the union have been met and an acceptable collective agreement has been signed. The decision to strike is taken collectively by the members of a union and the union executes the strike on their behalf.
2. Why do we strike?
Negotiations do not, regrettably, work on their own against the great strength of employers when collective agreements are made. Through the decades, it has often proven necessary for workers to strike in order to have their demands met. Many of the greatest achievements of working people in Iceland were reached by striking, such as raises, limitations on working hours, the right to paid holidays and various other rights.
3. Is it legal to strike?
Strikes are legal according to the legislation on unions and labour disputes (no. 80/1938). It can be found in Icelandic here. According to this law, a union may not call a strike while a collective agreement is in place. During that time, a no strike clause prevails. A strike may only be called after collective agreements have expired, but other conditions also apply. The union has to refer its negotiations to the state mediator (ríkissáttasemjari) and has to declare that the negotiations there have been fully exhausted and that the meetings have been to no avail. Then the union must call a strike in a legal manner and have a vote on it among its membership.
4. How is the decision made to strike?
The negotiation committee of a union decides whether there’s sufficient cause to start calling a strike. The call to strike is not valid until the members have voted for it by a simple majority of votes cast. A strike is thus only called with the democratic assent of union members. They will receive information on how to participate in the vote, and can also access the information at the union offices. When a strike has been agreed to by the members, the state mediator and the relevant employers must be informed seven days before the strike starts. The negotiation committee can decide to delay the strike. That delay has to be announced three days in advance. The negotiating parties can also agree between them to delay a strike that is being prepared or is already in progress.
5. Can I be fired for participating in a strike?
Participation in a legally called strike is clearly protected in Icelandic law. Employers are not permitted to fire people for complying with a legal call to a strike. After the strike, employees return to work in a normal way.
6. Can I skip participating in a strike?
When a strike has been called in a proper way, all union members that are called to strike must participate. Refusing participation in a legally called strike is not permissible and is called strike-breaking or scabbing. Unions are allowed to use pickets to prevent strike-breaking.
7. Do I get paid during a strike?
The employer does not have to pay its staff wages during a strike. The unions themselves pay their members from their funds instead, which are financed by the membership dues. The unions set rules about distribution from the strike funds, stipulating the conditions for payment and the amounts.
8. Can I find myself another job during a strike?
The confederation of employers, SA, forbids its member companies from hiring people who are striking against another SA member. Union members can lose the right to distribution from the strike fund if they find another job during the strike.
9. What can employers do about strikes?
If employers stubbornly reject the demands of workers during a strike, they can answer with lockouts. A lockout means that the employer doesn’t allow employees to work and doesn’t pay them wages. Lockouts are rare, but they are permitted by the law on unions and labour disputes. A lockout does not mean the employees are fired, and the staff returns to work after the lockout.
10. Can a strike be banned?
The labour movement considers legislation against strikes a breach of the workers’ rights. The Icelandic Parliament has nevertheless used legislation repeatedly to stop strikes. This tends to be accompanied by arguments about the damage to the national economy caused by the strike in question. The dispute is then referred to arbitration by the parliament, or the negotiating parties are made to accept a specific compromise, and are not allowed to push for a different result by work stoppages. Strikes are usually not legislated against until they have lasted for a considerable time, with the argument that it is done as a last resort.