Recently major collective contracts on pay and benefits were signed in Iceland. These agreements impact most workers in Iceland in one way or another, with almost every working person in the country benefiting at least from increase in pay. Significantly to Alda’s mission, these contracts have provisions in them about working-hours.

Some of the contracts have provisions that result in a flat cut in working-hours for workers. This is for instance the case with contracts signed by VR, largest store and office workers union in Iceland. The contracts cut hours by 45 minutes per working-week (net), taking effect on January 1st 2020. While this is a small cut in hours, it is a step forward, and over a full year amounts to around a full working-week. Crucially, the implementation of the cuts is flexible and can be tailored to each workplace, with the following possible strategies to implement the shortening:

  • Each working-day is shortened by 9 minutes
  • Each week is shortened by 45 minutes
  • Accrued time during the year calculated at the end of the year
  • Other forms of cut in working hours

There is also another provision in VR’s contracts that can result in a further cut in working-hours. The provision gives workers the right to draft a plan on how a cut in working hours can be achieved, which they then have to agree to and management as well. Workers will have to give up their coffee-breaks in exchange for the cut in hours — coffee breaks are generally of 15 to 35 minutes in duration (total per day).

Again, the implementation can vary depending on the workplace and type of work. For office workers the shortening can be implemented in a flexible way:

  • shortening by 2 hours per week,
  • or 8.6 hours per month,
  • or 94 hours a year,
  • or 13.23 days per year.

And for front-line workers similarly:

  • shortening by 3 hours and 40 minutes per week,
  • or 15.87 hours per month,
  • or 172.33 hours a year,
  • or 22 days per year.

Note that this is in addition to the 45 minutes cut in hours mentioned above. Also note that while this latter provision might seem not to give much benefits for workers, as it is not enforceable towards employers, in reality it might be very beneficial in workplaces where there is currently room for a cut in working-hours, but cultural factors impede its implementation. A report written by Alda last autumn identified a number of workplaces were this was the case.

Efling — a major union in services and manual labour — managed to get a provision for cut in hours based on a plan management and workers agree to, but unfortunately no flat cut in hours. Their provisions also allow for flexible ways of implementation of shortening of hours:

  • shortening by 53 minutes per working-day,
  • or each Friday shortened by 212 minutes,
  • or every other Friday off,
  • or custom plan.

Rafiðnaðarsambandið — a union of electricians, electrical engineers, phone engineers, and other — also signed a contract that has provisions on working-hours. In their contract, there is a provision allowing for a cut in hours from April 1st 2020 and from that day on workers can cut hours to 36 hours a week (from 40 hours) in a similar way as described in the case of Efling (giving up coffee-breaks). However, from January 1st 2022, workers can agree unilaterally to cut hours to ~36 hours, even if management is against it — this amounts to three hours and 45 minutes a day, with the pure shortening of hours being 50 minutes per day while coffee-breaks account for two hours and 55 minutes of shortening. This is without any loss of pay.

Implementation of shortening will be flexible:

  • shortening by 47 minutes per working-day
  • or each Friday shortened by 188 minutes,
  • or every other Friday off,
  • or custom plan.

The reason behind the clear difference between contracts is differing demands between unions towards employers, and that their pay-scales differes.

It should be noted that two of the unions mentioned — Efling, VR — represent about 63 thousand workers out of 200 thousand total in the Icelandic labour market (about 31%). Also it should be noted that these are just the contracts these particular unions made, and that there are other unions who might have negotiated in a different way. Nevertheless, these contracts are significant.

In the coming weeks or months further contracts will be signed, including for BHM, confederation of university graduates, and BSRB, federation of state and municipal employees, which in total represent around 41 thousand workers. BSRB has been a pioneer in trialling shortening of working hours in Iceland, in co-operation with Reykjavík City Council and the government of Iceland. These forthcoming contracts might also entail shortening of working-hours for workers affected by those contracts.

An update will be posted on our website once these contracts have been signed and their provisions are clear.