A living wage is not a “crisis”
There has been some movement in negotiations, even though the announcements of yesterday show that further struggle is needed so that people can live off the minimum wage in Iceland.
At the meeting of unions and employers at the state mediator yesterday, there was a final rejection of SA proposals on working time. They will not be discussed further. This means that talks about the main matter, wages, are coming up.
Last week, Efling and VR presented their demands on matters other than wages, which will now be discussed in subgroups. Among them are demands that breaking the collective agreement should be punished with fines, and that union representatives should get broader protection and rights. Further, the demand was made that equality should increase over the time of the new contracts.
“We are not just fighting for raising the lowest wages,” says Sólveig Anna, head of Efling. “We also want to stop the rising inequality during the contract period. We are asking for the opposite of what has been going on, where we are told that we are responsible for maintaining ‘stability’. It was a false stability, based on our bad conditions. Now we are putting the responsibility for maintaining stability where it belongs; on the bosses and the wealthy. This equality condition in the agreements would make sure that the stability isn’t false. It would make sure we don’t continue having a stability which is based on people not being able to pay their rent and living costs.”
The demands of Efling and other unions, that daytime wages should cover the cost of living, have not gotten agreement from employers. Today, Halldór Benjamín, the CEO of the SA business association, agreed with the Central Bank Chief Már Guðmundsson, who said that a “crisis” like strikes and wage raises “far outside what the flexibility allows” could cause great harm in Iceland. Sólveig Anna rebuts these comments.
“We are simply asking for wages we can live off. To refuse that is violence against working people, especially women, who work on the minimum wage. It is a crisis to deal with skeletal problems from overwork. It is a crisis to have to add a second job because you’re earning too little. It’s a crisis when the taxman takes a large part of the extra money from it. When rich men turn to us and say that we have to accept the unacceptable, it’s a crisis. But making an utterly fair demand about a living wage, that simply isn’t a crisis.”
The government has yet to produce more proposals relating to the collective bargaining, and negotiations on wages are to take place soon between unions and the SA.
“We’re sticking to our demands completely,” Sólveig Anna says. “Today, low wage workers are looking forward to a life where they will work hard until the end, and will then look back with empty hands. This is an unacceptable situation. The upper class has to come to the negotiating table with some humility.”