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This article describes worker involvement in decision-making and manage¬ment processes at the workplace in Iceland. It also examines worker participation at national and sectoral levels. The focus is on occupational safety and health (OSH) as it relates to participation rights and practices.

Iceland has a well-developed system of worker participation concerning OSH matters; this is mainly conducted through elected union representatives, and OSH representatives and committees. Union representation is laid down in agreements with social partners, and is regarded as the most influential way for workers to participate.

This article describes these types of participation in Iceland.

Regulatory framework for worker participation

Worker participation – international level and Iceland

At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 of ILO Convention C-155 on Occupational Safety and Health.[1] Iceland ratified this convention in 1991.[2] The main European legal source Legislation for worker information and consultation on OSH at European level is the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. Worker participation and consultation is a fundamental element of this basic directive.

Iceland introduced a law to transpose Directive 2002/14/EC [3]; establishing a general framework to inform and consult employees in the European Community. The aim of the Directive and the Icelandic Act (No 151/2006) [4] is to ensure the rights of employees to be informed and consulted on OSH matters, and promote cooperation between employee representatives and companies. It defines and implements arrangements for disclosure of information and consultation procedures.

The Icelandic Act on European Works Councils in Undertakings, No 61/1999 [5], is based on Council Directive 94/45/EC [6] on establishing a European Works Council. The Act applies to companies / groups with over 1000 employees in the European Economic Area. When Act No 61/1999 came into force, there were two agreements on European Works Councils in Icelandic companies that came under the scope of the Act.

The Icelandic Act on Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes (No. 80/1938) [7] assumes that, as employee representatives, shop stewards play a major role with regard to information and consultation. Those employees who are not represented by shop stewards can elect such a common representative to serve in this capacity.

Worker participation – legal rights of representation

Direct consultations within Icelandic companies between the owners and their employees are a fairly recent development, regulated by the Icelandic Act on information and consultations in companies (No 151/2006). [4]

The main principle of this Act covers the obligation of companies with at least 50 employees on the domestic labour market to provide employee representatives with information, and to consult with them on certain matters.

Article 2: “The aim of this Act is to guarantee the right of employees to information and consultation in undertakings and to encourage employees’ representatives and undertakings to work in a spirit of cooperation when structuring and implementing their mechanisms for information and consultation, taking the interests of both parties into account."

Employers have an obligation to provide employees with information regarding three areas. Article 4 ‘Information’ points out the major information topics [4]:

“Employers shall provide the employees’ representatives with information concerning the following: a. recent developments and the outlook concerning the undertaking’s activities and financial standing, b. the situation, structure and outlook regarding employment in the undertaking, and all foreseeable measures, particularly where a threat to job security is involved, c. decisions that are likely to lead to substantial changes in the structure of work or employees’ employment contracts, including decisions that are based on the provisions of the Changes of Ownership of Undertakings Act and the Collective Redundancies Act."

Employee representatives have the opportunity to meet with the employer and get a response to any questions or issues, and receive a reasoned response. However, board representation is not foreseen for employee representatives.

Worker participation – social partners

The social partners have established most of the rules that govern the Icelandic labour market. These rules are negotiated agreements between the said parties. [8]

The national organisations of employers and trade unions are principal participants in the tripartite social dialogue: The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (Alþýðusamband Íslands), the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (Samtök atvinnulífsins), the Federation of State and Municipal Employees (Bandalag starfsmanna ríkis og bæja), the Alliance of Graduate Civil Servants (Bandalag háskólamanna) and the Ministry of Finance and the Association of Local Authorities (Samband íslenskra sveitarfélaga). [8]

The Confederation of Icelandic Employers (Samtök atvinnulífsins - SA) is a comprehensive confederation of Icelandic employers, combining the forces of eight member associations. SA and its member associations account for about 2,000 businesses, and 50% of all salaried workers.

The member associations are divided into eight industries, each responsible for its own sector. These member associations are:

  • Association of Financial Institutions in Iceland (SFF),
  • Federation of district heating, electric utilities, and waterworks (Samorka),
  • Federation of Icelandic Electrical and Computer Employers (SART),
  • Federation of Icelandic Fish-processing Plants (SF),
  • Federation of Trade and Services (SVÞ),
  • Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners (LÍÚ),
  • Federation of Icelandic Industries (SI),
  • Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF).

The trade union membership rate in Iceland is 88% [9], which is high compared to most countries. Trade unions are affiliated to national federations, which are also members of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASI). The largest federations are: Federation of General and Special Workers (SGS, 51,800 members), Commercial Federation of Iceland (LIV, 30,000 members), Federation of Skilled Construction and Industrial Workers (Samidn, 6.600 members), Union of Icelandic Electrical Workers (RSI, 5,200 members), Federation of Icelandic Seamen (SSI, 2,800 members).

Worker participation – trade unions in enterprises

Since 1938 there has been a general system of worker representation at the workplace (union representatives) based on the Act on Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes (Act No. 80/1938).[7] This has been developed further by collective agreements. The provisions concerning union representatives have not been amended since the law was enacted.

Trade union members in companies have the right to elect union representatives (shop stewards). In smaller companies (5-50 workers) trade unionists can elect one representative while in larger companies they can elect two. These representatives are appointed for two years terms.

These representatives or shop stewarts must look to it that their respective employers observe the work agreements. In addition all workers can approach the representatives and submit complaints about their working contracts and conditions. If the representatives consider the complaints justified they must demand improvements from the employer.

Union representatives are permitted to call a meeting twice a year during working hours at the workplace. The meetings must be called in consultation with the relevant trade union and the management of the company. After consulting his employer, a union representative is entitled to leave work on account of his duties as union representative without reduction in full normal wages, based on regular working hours. Employers are not permitted to terminate the employment of trade union representatives solely on account of their status.

Some collective agreements specify the prerogatives of union representatives and the resources available to them to carry out their tasks. Union representatives represent both trade unions and employees at the workplace.

Worker participation – works councils

In Iceland there is no legislation or any voluntary agreement to form works councils. The union representatives, present in most enterprises in Iceland, are virtually the workers’ sole representatives.

OSH and worker participation


The Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace (Lög um aðbúnað, hollustuhætti og öryggi á vinnustöðum, no. 46/1980) [10] applies to all companies, even if the only worker is the company owner. It applies to all employees: on fixed-term or temporary contracts, in private or public sector, at NGOs, or to individuals.

The Act states that employers must point out potential accident and health hazards to their employees. They must ensure that employees receive sufficient training to work safely, and ensure good working environment and healthy and safe working procedures.

Company level

According to the basic legislation (AWE), the structure of how workers are represented on OSH matters mainly depends on the size of the company.

In companies with 1 to 9 staff, the employer (or foreman) shall work towards a good working environment and OSH standards, in close cooperation with employees and union representatives.

In larger enterprises, there are two types of representation, the: Öryggistrúnaðarmann (OSH-representative) for small companies (10 - 50 staff) and Öryggisnefnd (OSH committee) for larger companies (>50 staff).

Öryggistrúnaðarmann – OSH-representative

Chapter II article 5 of the WEA [10] regulates the appointment (or election, depending on the size) of an OSH-representative: “In enterprises employing ten people or more, the employer shall appoint one person as a safety representative guard on his/her behalf and the employees shall appoint another from their group as a safety representative."

The tasks / powers of the employer are described in detail in Article II of the AWE, which also details the rights of OSH representatives. Article 13 [9]:

“The employer shall ensure full safety and good working environment and health in the workplace. In particular this applies to: a. Chapter V concerning work processes, b. Chapter VI concerning workplaces, c. Chapter VII concerning machinery, equipment, etc. d. Chapter VIII concerning dangerous substances and goods, e. Chapter XI on risk assessment, health protection and medical check-ups."

OSH representatives must ensure that the company adhere to OSH regulations, and that work is performed in a safe and healthy manner. They must keep the employer informed, but cannot take measures themselves; this remains the responsibility of the employer.

The employer has to bear all costs of the work of the OSH representatives. In Article 8 of the Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace, no. 46/1980, it states that [10]:

“The employer shall ensure that those who are elected to handle the working environment, health and safety in his/her enterprise can have the opportunity to acquire necessary knowledge and education concerning working environment, health and safety in the workplaces."

OSH training is mainly provided by the Administration for Occupational Health and Safety (AOHS) [11] and is organised by their Department of Training and Information.

The courses, usually one to three days, are designed for the target group:

  • For employer/employees safety representatives, in workplaces with over 10 staff. These courses are also open to all employees and representatives of the elected union.
  • For managers and foremen, given their particular OSH responsibility; these courses last two to three days.
  • Courses are also designed for companies and institutions, at their request.

Öryggisnefnd – OSH committees

In enterprises employing 50 people or more, a safety committee shall be established. The employees select two representatives from their group and the employer also appoints two representatives. This committee organises activities on the working environment, and company OSH, informing employees on these matters, inspecting the workplace, and monitoring the effectiveness of measures taken to improve the working environment / OSH.

When the Administration of Occupational Health and Safety inspect the company, they inform the employer (or representative), the employee safety representative, trade union representative, and, where present, the safety committee;

The inspectors are obliged to consult with employer and employee representatives, and both sides also have the right to consult with the labour inspector, as is convenient.

Tripartite concertation and social dialogue at national level

The basic legislation in Iceland on social dialogue within the labour market is the Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes Act No. 80/1938.[7] The Act sets out the role of the trade union as a negotiating party in collective bargaining with employers. Social dialogue mechanisms for labour relations have a long tradition in Iceland, characterised by an independent and strong labour movement, with the power to regulate employment terms via collective bargaining through its main negotiating partner, - the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA). If a labour market issue arises, it is (formally or informally) discussed by representatives of both the authorities and the social partners. According to Article 1 of the Act on Workers’ Wages and Terms of Employment and Obligatory Insurance of Pension Rights (No 55/1980) [12], wages and other working terms agreed between social partners shall be considered minimum terms for all employees in the area covered by the collective agreements. Article 2 of the same Act stipulates that agreements between social partners regarding disputes shall have the same general validity as the collective agreements on wages and other terms of service under Article1. Such disputes include whether the wages and terms of employees on the Icelandic labour market conform to the provisions of legislation and collective agreements. The law provides that the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security should seek consultation with those boards where the social partners have representatives. An example of such legislation is the Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in Workplaces, where the law provides that the Minister seek consultation with the board of the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health in preparation of law-making, adoption of regulations and other provisions on matters that are subject to the Act. Under all circumstances, the Minister shall present the board with bills and regulations for consultation. The State also plays a major part, through the tripartite consultation which takes place when economic and social policies are framed. Several public institutions deal with labour market issues, such as the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (Vinnueftirlit ríkisins) or the Directorate of Labour (Vinnumálastofnun).[13]


[1] ILO – International Labour Organization, ILO Convention C155 from August 11, 1983 concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the working environment. Available at:

[2] International Labour Conference 98th Session (2009): Report III (Part 1B): General Survey concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), the Occupational Safety and Health Recommendation, 1981 (No. 164), and the Protocol of 2002 to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981. Available at:

[3] Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation, OJ L 080 , 23.03.2002, p. 0029 – 0034. Available at:

[4] Velferðaráðuneytið (Ministry of Welfare), Act on information and consultation in undertakings, no. 151/2006, as amended by Act No. 88/2008. Available at:

[5] Velferðaráðuneytið (Ministry of Welfare), Act on European Works Councils in Undertakings, No. 61/1999. Available at:

[6] Council Directive 94/45/EC of 22 September 1994 on the establishment of a European Works Council or a procedure in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings for the purposes of informing and consulting employees, OJ L 254. Available at:

[7] Velferðaráðuneytið (Ministry of Welfare), Act on Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, No. 80/1938, as amended by Act no. 70/1954, no. 10/1983, no. 91/1991, no. 75/1996, no. 83/1997, no. 20/2001, no. 162/2010 and no. 126/2011. Available at:

[8] Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASI), Icelandic labour law a summary of basic rights and obligations on the private labour market, Reykjavik, 2007. Available at:

[9] European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Unit F.2, Employee representatives in an enlarged Europe, Volume 1, Volume 2, 2008.

[10] Velferðaráðuneytið (Ministry of Welfare), Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in Workplaces, No. 46/1980, (Reglugerð um aðgerðir gegn einelti á vinnustað), version 2010. Available at: English:

[11] Vinnueftirlitið (Administration for Occupational Health and Safety; AOHS), Ársskýrsla Vinnueftirlitsins fyrir árið 2011 (Annual Report for 2011), Reykjavik, 2012.Available at:

[12] Velferðaráðuneytið (Ministry of Welfare), Act on Working Terms and Pension Rights Insurance, No. 55/1980, as amended by Act No. 58/1985, No. 33/1987, No. 21/1991, No. 69/1993, No. 129/1997, No. 145/2004 and No. 76/2010. Available at:

[13] Vinnumalastofnun (Directorate of Labour). Home page. Retrieved on 19 March 2013, from:

Further reading

Agreement On The European Economic Area, 15.11.2011 - Updated EEA Agreement, Main Part, OJ No L 1, 3.1.1994, p. 3; and EFTA States’ official gazettes. Available at:

Commission Staff Working Document: Analytical Report accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council. Commission Opinion on Iceland's application for membership of the European Union, COM 62, 2010. Available at:

Commission Staff Working Document, Iceland - 2012 Progress Report, accompanying the document, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the CouncilEnlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-2013, COM 600 final, 2012. Available at:

Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA). Home page. Retrieved on 19 March 2013, from:]

EU DG Enlargement, Screening report Iceland: Chapter 19 – Social policy and employment, 2011. Available at:

Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASI). Home page. Retrieved on 19 March 2013. from:

Alþýðusamband Íslands (no date). Material in English and other languages (Icelandic Labour law). Retrieved on 19 March 2013, from:

Ministry of Welfare (Velferðaráðuneytið). Home page. Retrieved on 19 March 2013, from:

Tómasson, K., Þórunn Sveinsdóttir, Þ., ‘OSH policy and visions of Iceland’, in: Principles and concepts in Nordic occupational safety and health policies - Dimensions of strategic thinking and approaches, Nordic council of Ministers, Copenhagen 2001, p. 93, Available at:

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Klaus Kuhl