The Gibraltar General and Clerical Association has ruled out balloting for industrial action over the recent pay cap announced by the Gibraltar Government, despite overwhelming support by those who responded to an internal online poll designed to sample whether such a move would have the backing of the union’s civil service and public sector members.
The GGCA said less than a quarter of its civil service and public sector members had responded to the poll, which sought to establish whether there was support to declare a dispute over the government’s move to cap the public sector pay rise this year.
Of those who voted – around 286 out of 1,300 members – 92% said the GGCA should declare a dispute over the pay, with the same percentage saying members should be balloted for industrial action.
But the GGCA said that given the low response to the poll, it did not feel there was a mandate from members to proceed to the ballot.
“The results are clearly indicative of a mood and a certain view amongst a significant section of the membership,” said GGCA president Wendy Cumming.
“But the low response means we are some way from being in a position to ballot for industrial action.”
Ms Cumming nevertheless told the Chronicle that she personally was sympathetic to the views expressed by those who had responded to the poll.
Union members believe the unprecedented pay cap reneges on government commitments set out in the GSLP/Liberals’ 2015 electoral manifesto, in which the alliance vowed to increase public sector salaries by at least the rate of inflation.
That commitment, the GGCA members say, is at odds with a budget measure announced by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo for a 2.5% pay rise in the public sector capped at 60p an hour for those earning over £46,000, even though inflation is at 2.6%.
Not only that, Ms Cumming said, the cap was announced during a budget session in which the government reported an 8.6% rise in GDP.
“How can you justify it?” she asked.
Ms Cumming said the GGCA committee would now meet to carefully review the outcome of the poll and decide on what steps to take.
The poll, which ran for nearly three weeks, was opened to all GGCA civil service and public sector members, even though only those who earn £46,000 a year or more would be directly affected.
The union took that step as a reflection of the fact that the pay cap could have longer-term implications for those who were not yet in the affected salary spectrum.
But some members feel opinion should have been sampled among those who were directly and immediately impacted by the move, and this is one of the issues that will now be reviewed by the committee as it decides how to proceed.
The poll also asked GGCA civil service and public sector members to express a view on whether the recruitment process for Administrative Assistants within the civil service should be commenced immediately.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the result was an overwhelming 98% in favour of recruitment recommencing immediately.
The developments were being closely monitored by the Gibraltar Government.
“The response to the GGCApoll suggests that almost 80%ofthe GGCA’s members do not see a need to declare a dispute or take industrial action and are therefore supportive of the Government’s positions on the matters which formed the subject matter of the poll,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“We will, nonetheless, of course continue talking to the GGCA about the concerns expressed by their members and will work to resolve any genuine, reasonable and objectively legitimate grievances in a positive, constructive and cooperative manner.”
The wider context to the poll stemmed not just from the pay cap but also from comments on public sector efficiency made during the budget session by Sir Joe Bossano, the Minister for Economic Development and Public Sector Efficiency.
At the time, Sir Joe said Gibraltar’s public sector was unsustainable in its current form “even without Brexit”, adding that “things will have to change”.
“I know that within the public sector there are many who understand the need to move in this direction but there are also those that do not,” Sir Joe said.
He pointed to investment in e-government and efficiency measures as steps that would protect the long-term viability of the public sector and the services it delivered for the community, insisting that it was a case of working “smarter, not harder”.
Both Mr Bossano and the Chief Minister were careful to acknowledge the work carried out by the civil service and the wider public sector, insisting that the Gibraltar Government had been “totally supportive” in everything from pay rises to working hours.
They said the Gibraltar Government was working to deliver a modern, efficient and strengthened civil service and public sector.
But the cap on pay increases, alongside Sir Joe’s comments on efficiency, caused deep unease among many members of the GCCA, who called on the union’s committee to sample opinion across all members in the civil service and public sector.