2017 OECD Economic Surveys: Iceland 2017

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Iceland is the OECD's fastest growing economy. It has made a remarkable turnaround from the crisis, helped by booming tourism, prudent economic policies and a favourable external environment. Iceland has an egalitarian society with strong trade unions, very low inequality and high gender balance. Nevertheless, as a very small open economy Iceland is prone to boom and bust cycles. Prudent fiscal and monetary policy are warranted in the current economic boom.

The spectacular growth in tourist numbers has provided new jobs, boosted tax revenues and attracted currency inflows, but there are some growing pains with social pressures emerging. Growing tourist numbers are putting pressure on the environment, infrastructure and housing. Furthermore, the strengthening króna has created difficulties for other internationally-exposed sectors.

Iceland is the most highly unionised OECD country and the wage-bargaining system has contributed to high living standards and an inclusive society. Nevertheless, recent disruptive strikes and high wage awards have intensified inflationary pressures and threaten competiveness. Fostering trust among the social partners and increasing wage coordination would make collective bargaining more effective and help sustain the benefits of the system for future generations.



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Labour market and collective bargaining in Iceland: Sharing the spoils without spoiling the shares

Iceland has high living standards, low poverty, high inclusiveness and one of the most sustainable pension systems. It is the most highly unionised country in the OECD and, in the past, successful social pacts have protected the lowest paid workers during crises, and on occasion helped fight inflation. Nevertheless, Iceland experiences recurrent bursts of social tensions and labour unrest that often result in large wage awards, particularly in times of economic boom. Iceland is prone to accentuated economic cycles, and the pro-cyclical nature of collective bargaining aggravates these harmful dynamics.Social partners often have disagreements over what has been agreed in the past and they can have differing views on the state of the economy. Trust among the social partners has been undermined and wage co-ordination is low. There is a large number of unions, many of them very small, and wage demands are often not consistent with macroeconomic stability. Labour unrest frequently originates in the public sector as wages lag behind the private sector.Fostering trust and increasing wage co-ordination would make collective bargaining more effective and help sustain the benefits of the system for future generations. A technical committee should be established to provide reliable and impartial information to wage negotiators. Wage negotiations could start with “wage guidelines” issued by the major labour and employer confederations. State mediator should have greater powers in order to improve wage co-ordination and support the “wage guidelines”.



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