Unite the Union has blamed Port Minister Gilbert Licudi for a manning shortfall at the Gibraltar Port Authority that could impact on the port’s capacity to properly provide core services including sea rescue.
In a tough statement, the union claimed the Gibraltar Government had ignored Unite’s warnings that the shortfall could have “potentially serious ramifications”, particularly given the increased number of people who own boats.
The union was reacting to a Chronicle article that described how a local boat owner was forced to tow a becalmed yacht into port despite calling on the GPA for help.
The yachtsman claimed the GPA told him it had no staff for its rescue boat.
The government later confirmed that only two crewmen were available because the third had called in sick and there was no cover arranged.
Safety rules require the port rescue launch to have a minimum three-man crew unless the situation is life-threatening, which was not the case on this occasion.
The government nonetheless said it had instructed the GPA to take steps to avoid a similar occurrence in the future.
But yesterday, Unite hit back hard.
“Unite the Union places the blame squarely at the feet of the Chairman of the GPA, Minister Gilbert Licudi,” the union said in a statement.
“The excellent service offered by the GPA ought not to be besmirched as a consequence of the Minister’s decisions.”
According to Unite, staffing at the GPA at the Grade of Seamen Mechanics has been a concern for months.
The union said interviews to meet the shortfall had been conducted in May and that successful candidates had been identified.
It should have been only a number of weeks before they participated in an induction period and commenced their duties out at sea, the union said.
“Incredulously however, we were at a loss to justify the instruction by the Chairman of the GPA to put on hold the recruitment process for reasons only known to himself,” Unite added.
“Unite approached Minister Licudi and the GPA Management structure and stated that putting the process on hold could have potentially serious ramifications in the GPA’s ability to meet its obligations, particularly that of assisting people at sea who are in distress or in difficulties that could lead to distress.”
“Notwithstanding the above, and as a consequence of this staffing shortfall, GPA crews have had to work double shifts where their resilience is at an all-time low.”
“It would be wholly unfair to apportion blame to the rank and file, where the problem lies with the Chairman, Minister Licudi, having paid no heed to our warnings.”
“Poor planning at the GPA has been and continues to be a concern that Unite insists must be addressed.”
“Unite calls on the Minster to review staffing across the board at the GPA given not only the sorry state of affairs as evidenced earlier this week but also taking into account the increased amount of sea traffic that the new berths have provided.”
Last night, the Gibraltar Government dismissed the union’s criticism.
“There was no inaction or delay on Minister Licudi’s part in relation to the filling of the seaman/mechanic vacancy,” a government spokesman said.
“There were certain matters concerning this post which had to be considered by Cabinet.”
“These matters came before Cabinet on 12 July and on 24 July. On 12 July Cabinet decided to put the selection on hold.”
“This was communicated to the GPA by No.6 and not by Minister Licudi as alleged by Unite.”
“Following Cabinet’s discussion on 24 July, Minister Licudi gave an instruction to the Captain of the Port on 28 July to proceed to implement the decision of the Selection Board.”