Fired during talks about labor rights
On August 20 2021 Icelandair unexpectedly fired the union representative of Efling members in the cargo and baggage handling department in Reykjavík airport, Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir. The firing happened at the same time as Ólöf was in discussions with the company, with the aid of the lawyer and staff of Efling, regarding staff employment rights. The discussions were about proposed changes to the organization of work and staff responsibilities. Ólöf was safeguarding the rights and interests of her colleagues.
Trusted by coworkers and her union
Ólöf has been the union rep of staff in the handling department in the workplace since 2018. She enjoys respect and trust among her coworkers. Ólöf works in a group of approximately 10 other permanently hired baggage handlers, and is the only female in this group. She has worked in the handling department since 2016. She also sits on the board of Efling Union.
As a union rep, Ólöf enjoys protections against being fired. It is unlawful to fire her from her job because of her work as union rep. In case of layoff for some other reason, those reasons have to be weighty and based on valid reasons. No such reasons apply to the case of Ólöf’s firing.
Accused of unexplained “breach of confidence”
In a phone call from her supervisor, the airline station manager, on August 20 Ólöf was told that she was being fired because of a “breach of confidence” and she was told not to return to work. Her access to email and internal company web was immediately closed.
On that same day, and again on Monday August 23, Ólöf’s supervisor, the station manager held workplace meetings where Ólöf was accused, in her absence, in front of her coworkers of “serious breach of confidence in her job”. This was said to be the reason for her firing. This is a serious, libelous accusation. Ólöf’s coworkers have testified in writing that this was the language used in these meetings.
No evidence for breach of confidence – never been reprimanded
In the termination letter signed by the station manager, which Ólöf was given after verbal notification, there was no reason provided for the termination. In an interview about the reasons for the firing on August 27, there were no explanations provided for the purported breach of confidence, even though this was explicitly requested. Instead, there was unclear discussion about that communication with colleagues could have been better. None of Ólöf’s colleagues has supported this claim.
Icelandair has offered no confirmation or clarification about any fault on Ólöf’s behalf in her job, neither regarding confidence nor anything else. Ólöf has never in her career with Icelandair been reprimanded or served any warning that she was supposed to conduct herself in a certain manner at the risk of losing her job.
Wrongly proclaimed to not be a union rep – reference to non-existent formal requirements
Icelandair has proclaimed that Ólöf does not enjoy the layoff protections of a union rep, since there was no formal announcement of the renewal of her term as union rep when two years had passed from her initial appointment to the role.
There are no requirements in the Icelandic laws or collective contracts about a certain form of announcing the appointment of a union rep to the employer. At Efling Union, it is not customary to send a special announcement about the renewal of a union rep’s term if the same individual is continuing in the position with a clear mandate from their coworkers and attends the duties of the position in an unchanged manner.
Staff in the handling department have confirmed that Ólöf has been in the role of union rep with their mandate continuously since she was initially appointed to the role in 2018.
The company listed Ólöf as union rep and addressed her as such
During the period which Icelandair now claims the company did not have knowledge that Ólöf was a union rep, the company nevertheless addressed her as a union rep in email communication, listed her as such on the company inner web and has in addition been engaged in active talks with her as the representative of her coworkers in the last weeks and months. Materials and testimonies support all this.
Icelandair’s claim to have not known about Ólöf’s position as union rep is not in accordance with the truth. The Efling lawyer has challenged Icelandair to present copies of Ólöf’s email communication to company representatives, where there are even further confirmations about the company’s awareness of her position as union rep. No response has been received to this challenge.
Icelandair has claimed that Ólöf herself declared to unspecified individuals at an unspecified time that she was not a union rep. Ólöf has made no such declaration and there are no materials or testimonies to support this.
The company registered Ólöf as safety representative
In addition to being a regular union rep, Ólöf was also a safety representative (öryggistrúnaðarmaður). Safety reps have the same layoff protection as regular union reps. Following Ólöf’s nomination, Icelandair registered her appointment to the position of safety rep with the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (Vinnueftirlitið) on February 20 2020 in accordance with laws and regulations.
In written correspondence after the firing, Icelandair now claims that Ólöf’s mandate as safety rep was cancelled because the operation of the airport was moved from Air Iceland Connect (Flugfélag Íslands) to Icelandair. Such changes do not cause the mandate of the workplace safety rep to be cancelled. This supposed cancellation was not informed anywhere, neither to the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health, to Ólöf, nor to other security reps, until Icelandair received protest against Ólöf’s firing.
Ólöf has attended to her duties as safety rep in the Reykjavík airport continuously since February 2020, also after the aforementioned operational change, and acted as such in communication within the company in the last months.
SA support – declaration forgotten
The Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (Samtök atvinnulífsins, SA), have supported Icelandair in Ólöf’s firing. A lawyer from SA was present in the interview about the reasons for the firing, and has written replies to the lawyer of Efling on behalf of Icelandair. Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, the director of SA, has declared his support for the firing.
SA and Icelandair were parties to a special declaration along with the Confederation of Labor (Alþýðusamband Íslands, ASÍ) and the Icelandic Cabin Crew Association (Flugfreyjufélag Íslands, FFÍ) which was published on September 17 2020. It expressed an intent to respect the rights of workers and to have positive interaction among the parties of labor market. The declaration stated:
“Icelandair believes it necessary for the future of the company to respect unions and the independent collective bargaining rights of its staff, guaranteeing peace around the company’s operations while contracts are in force and while solutions to labor negotiations are sought. Parties will make an effort to maintain good cooperation and will make contributions to regain and strengthen trust between them.”
It is difficult to see how the baseless firing of a union rep in the midst of discussions about staff rights indicates a will to cooperation with unionized workers.
Wishes to come back to work – demand for withdrawal of firing sent to CEO of Icelandair
The lawyer of Efling has written detailed letters on behalf of Ólöf to Icelandair dated September 1 and 13, where the company is challenged to withdraw her firing. All of the company’s arguments have been answered in these letters with reference to law and uncontested evidence. It has been communicated that Ólöf wishes to return to her job and is ready to drop any disputes should that wish be honored. On October 1, the lawyer of SA responded by rejecting this request.
Handlers in the Reykjavík airport have fully supported Ólöf. They have signed and sent a declaration to Bogi Nils Bogason, CEO of Icelandair, where they demand that Ólöf’s firing be withdrawn. The declaration also reminds of workers’ lawful rights to protect their interests and participate in unions without having to suffer layoffs or threats thereof. The company has not answered the declaration.
Broad support – discussion in the union movement
The board of Efling Union has discussed the case and declared full support for Ólöf. The case was discussed at the meeting of the ASÍ central committee on September 15.
Ólöf’s case and the campaign of the Reykjavík airport handlers was discussed at the meeting of Efling’s Delegate Council (trúnaðarráð) on September 16. A resolution was passed, which Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir the chairman of Efling sent to Bogi Nils Bogason CEO of Icelandair on September 20. Bogi replied on September 30, denying the request to withdraw the termination.