Union reps out of chains: From the new agreements
In Iceland, many hotels and restaurants are run by conglomerates and chains. These companies keep the tourist economy going, but they themselves are kept going by mostly foreign labour. They also have rapid turnover of staff. In these conditions, having solid union representation is very important.
However, these are also the places where it’s often proven the hardest to get union reps elected. Some of these businesses see the whole chain as a single “workplace”, and only allow one or two reps to be elected for all the workstations, instead of seeing the individual branches, where people actually work together on a regular basis, as the workplaces they naturally are.
“This can mean that the union rep has to travel between places in their free time to be able to do their job properly,” Magdalena Samsonowicz, of the Efling organizing division, says. “But even that isn’t the same as being in day-to-day contact with the people in the workplace.”
“It’s really about the union rep having regular contact with the colleagues,” says Valgerður Árnadóttir, head of organizing. “We recently elected two reps to a hotel where one was a staffer in the kitchen and the other in housekeeping. The groups spoke different languages. The employer didn’t accept that there was a need for two reps, even though the workplace had lots of staff and there was no communication between the two groups.”
In the new collective agreement with SA, there is a clause to clarify that union representatives should get a real chance to perform their duties:
“Where the workstations of a company number more than one, the union representative should get the opportunity to perform union representation duties in all of them, or more union representatives should be elected to perform these tasks.”Clarification in chapter 13.1.1 of the collective agreement between SGS and SA
“This allows people to have a real spokesperson in their workplace, who knows what’s going on there and gets an actual opportunity to do their job,” says Valgerður.
Magdalena agrees. “There is a direct relation between having a rep in a workplace and preventing rights violations there,” she says. “The union rep system is the backbone of the union.”