Iceland's fishermen vote to strike

Published on
October 18, 2016

The Icelandic fleet is set to stop fishing next month after union members voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action over falling earnings.

Ninety-one percent of members of the Icelandic Union of Marine Engineers and Metal Technicians voted for a strike, as did 90 percent of the members of associations affiliated to the Seamen’s Union representing deck crews.

The ships officers’ union had previously voted to accept the terms of an agreement with owners’ federation SFS (Iceland Fisheries).

There are several issues that the pro-strike unions are deeply dissatisfied with, including the percentage that crews of new vessels pay towards construction costs, which is felt to be excessive, not least because there is a number of new vessels set to join the Icelandic fleet over the coming year, with both freezer and fresher trawlers being built at yards in China and Turkey for Icelandic operators.

Another bone of contention is the prices paid by vertically integrated companies for fish caught by vessels and processed at factories ashore, with both operations owned by the same company.

Shares paid to crews are calculated on a rate set by a committee, and this has always been significantly lower than the rate paid for fish at auctions. In a long-running dispute, workers have been demanding that all fish should go through the auction system and for shares to be calculated on the market rate.

Crews have also become increasingly dissatisfied with earnings as the Icelandic krona has gained strength, and also that the Russian import embargo has affected the trade of some species.

Crew earnings are reported to be 30 to 40 percent lower than they were a year ago.

Previous agreements between unions and owners ended some years ago and the parties involved have been unable to reach an agreement since.

If no agreement is reached, the strike will commence at 11 p.m. (Iceland time) on 10 November.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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