Iceland union warns huge civil service pay rises could spark chaos

Parliament has been asked to reconvene to reverse the decision.

Parliament has been asked to reconvene to reverse the decision. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Styrmir Kári

Union leaders are up in arms at new plans to give senior civil servants in Iceland significant pay rises – in some cases as high as 48%.

Iceland’s National Remuneration Board (link in Icelandic) has recently agreed to double-figure percentage pay rises for heads of government agencies and committee chairpersons – on top of the 7.15% rise they already receive as of 1 June.

Most of the pay rises in question will also be back-dated to 1 December 2014.

Elín Björg Jónsdóttir.

Elín Björg Jónsdóttir. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Ómar

The Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB) have said the decision is out of step with the rises given to others on the labour market, and that the argument that increased work pressure justifies such big increases applies to all workers, not just senior officials.

Double-figure percentage pay rises have been granted to the National Commissioner of Police, the head of the Immigration Appeal Board, the head of the Police Training Academy, the head of the Directorate of Immigration, the director of Prison Affairs, and the head of the Child Protection Agency.

Head of BSRB Elín Björg Jónsdóttir has condemned the increases as “totally unacceptable”.

“This huge rise for already well-paid people increases inequality in society and will not be free of consequences,” she warns. “It clearly requires more workers to get extra pay owing to greater pressure.

Gylfi Arnbjörnsson.

Gylfi Arnbjörnsson. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Ernir

Head of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) Gylfi Arnbjörnsson has also warned of grave consequences, and has demanded parliament be reconvened to reverse the ruling.

“The National Remuneration Board is clearly set on plotting a new course of much higher pay rises than agreed upon on the labour market,” he says.

Arnbjörnsson points out that not long ago ministerial secretaries-general recently received a 28-35% pay rise and permanent secretaries 36-37% – now other senior civil servants have been granted similar increases.

“This is part of a progression which is bound to peak at election time this autumn, when ministers and MPs will probably get similar pay rises,” he says. “I must admit that I don’t think this is in line with the legislation governing the work of the Board.”

Iceland was hit by a series of strikes over pay ...

Iceland was hit by a series of strikes over pay and working conditions last year. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Eggert

“The whole labour market is under great pressure. Staff numbers have been cut and fewer people are doing more work. The argument [of higher pay for more pressure] either holds for everybody or for nobody.”

He issues a stark warning with reference to the widespread strike action which hit Iceland last year.

“If parliament does not reverse this decision, the government will just have to accept that everything will go belly up – directly or indirectly thank to their own actions – just like it did last year.”

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