Chief Minister Fabian Picardo joined more than 200 workers outside No.6 Convent Place yesterday as they demonstrated against job cuts by the Ministry of Defence contractor Interserve.
In a show of solidarity, Mr Picardo joined workers who had marched from the naval base to The Convent, as they brandished banners and chanted ‘Enough is enough’.
Mr Picardo even joined them in a sit-down protest on the cobbled streets outside The Convent.
Addressing the protestors he said: “You have the full solidarity and support of the Government of Gibraltar.”
“We’re not going to tolerate one compulsory job cut,” Mr Picardo said, adding: “No company is going to come to Gibraltar and make compulsory job cuts, we will not allow it.”
He later told the Chronicle: “I think it is absolutely shocking and inappropriate that Interserve should have decided to make a public announcement about job cuts and determine whose jobs are in the scope for cutting without having entered into a process of consultation with the union and with the Government of Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo explained that the law only requires a consultation if there are more than ten redundancies in scope at any one time.
But, he said: “Modern, proper and good industrial relations suggests that you’re going to engage with the union that represents the people that work with you to ensure that you act in a way that is in keeping with the desire the employer should have to avoid job cuts…”
Asked about the possibility of further redundancies in the coming months in a way that circumnavigates the rule on consultation, Mr Picardo insisted that the government would respond “very harshly”.
“We’re certainly not going to allow, from the point of view of the government, and if necessary we will change the law, that somebody should get around the rule on consultation if there’s more than 10 job cuts by simply spreading them over a period of time.”
“We’re not monkeys in Gibraltar and we’ll see that coming and we’ll deal with it very harshly indeed.”
“If somebody thinks that they can improve their bottom line by playing a game like that, they’ll see that they’ve got something else coming.”
This comes just one day after Unite the Union revealed that the company was to make five workers in Gibraltar redundant as part of a group-wide programme to streamline its operations.
Just ahead of yesterday’s demonstration, Unite official Christian Duo explained that the union had previously enjoyed a “very good” relationship with Interserve, but were now “appalled” at the manner in which the company communicated the redundancies.
“They have informed the union at the same time that they informed the affected members, which is something that we do not accept,” he said.
Members therefore unanimously agreed to stage the walk-out, Mr Duo said explaining that alongside the main issue of job cuts sits other matters causing discontent for workers including pay claims and pension disparities.
“Members are appalled by the way the company has acted,” he said.
Mr Duo explained that despite previous good relations between the union and the company a high-level meeting was held in the UK last month but at no point was the prospect of redundancies raised.
“This is not the relationship that we have with the company, this is not the way we do things in Gibraltar and whether they are following the line of the UK that is not acceptable for us in Gibraltar.”
“Unite Gibraltar has a strong presence in the company and we will not accept the company disrespecting the union,” Mr Duo said.
Yesterday’s industrial action comes against a backdrop of increasingly difficult times for Interserve, which holds several UK government contracts and employs 80,000 people across its operations, including around 200 in Gibraltar.
The company is responsible for British military bases in Gibraltar and the Falklands and holds several contracts with local authorities, London Underground and for Whitehall offices.
It recently began implementing a transformation plan called ‘Fit for Growth’ in a bid to streamline the group and improve its efficiency and financial stability.
Interserve fell deeper into the red last month, with chairman Glyn Baker bemoaning “self-inflicted mistakes of the past”.
The group saw losses more than double to £244.4 million in 2017, which compares with a £94.1 million loss in 2016.
Interserve has endured a tumultuous period that has seen the company warn over profits and seek emergency financing.
The firm was hit by disappointing trading in July and August, and in October warned over profits and a potential breach of its banking covenants as it grappled with escalating staff costs, squeezed margins and a flagging performance from its justice business.
The Chronicle contacted Interserve for comment on yesterday’s protest but the company had not responded as this edition went to press.
Pics by Johnny Bugeja