Unite the Union yesterday called for “a year of action” on fair pay and conditions for agency workers, announcing that it was considering a legal challenge to poor employment practices in Gibraltar.
Reacting to government plans to end the use of agency workers in the public sector, Unite said its concern was that workers currently employed through agencies should not have their contracts terminated in order to eradicate the practice.
Unite, which urged the government to ensures union representatives were involved in the discussions on this issue, said agency workers should be given the chance of keeping their jobs.
“Our aim would be that all current agency workers are given the opportunity to be left in post once the process of eradication begins by way of announcing vacancies and that these workers are given priority over external candidates or their contracts be made permanent with decent pay and conditions of employment,” Unite said in a statement yesterday.
“Public and also private sector agency workers deserve to be paid the same as direct employees if they’re doing the same job, so the government should look to close the loophole that allows agency workers to sign away their right to equal pay and conditions.”
“Many workers doing the same job on the same terms as employee colleagues deserve to take home the same day’s pay and enjoy the same terms and conditions of employment.”
“We call on all agency workers both in the public and private sector to join our endeavour to eradicate this practice and ultimately secure dignified employment for the future, as we cannot allow ourselves to adopt the negative practices as in other countries.”
Unite said “rampant casualization” of jobs in other countries had had a destabilising effect, creating uncertainty for workers who faced precarious employment terms, with a knock-on negative impact on other areas of the economy.
Without any certainty on employment and wages, workers were reluctant to spend money or make large financial commitments such as mortgages for home, resulting in weaker growth for the economy.
“We are experiencing the same threat in Gibraltar, sleepwalking into this same employment market of casualization,” Unite said.
“We are already experiencing increase in agency workers and the use of fixed term contracts across the economy within Gibraltar, be it in the public or private sector.”
Unite also called for a revamp of agency worker regulations in Gibraltar, which currently state that agency workers, after 12 months in the job, must receive parity with permanent staff on key issues such as pay.
The compares unfavourably to the UK, where the qualifying period is twelve weeks and “is more shameful” when the original European Union Directive envisaged the parity as a ‘day one’ right, Unite said.
“Unite will be exploring a legal challenge against this twelve month qualifying period to bring an end to employers engaging agency workers on the cheap for one year,” union added.
Unite was also critical of employers who engage workers on 11-month fixed term contracts, lay them off for a period of a couple of weeks or days, and then re-engage them on a further 11-month fixed term contract, believing this will enable them to by-pass key provisions within the European Union Fixed Term Work Directive 1999 around permanency of employment.
“This is another area that Unite is exploring the potential for legal challenge and to fight back against poor employment practices in Gibraltar,” Unite said.
Unite said the roles filled by agency workers were “an incredibly important” to Gibraltar and should be passed on to the next generation of employees after current workers retire or move on.
“We do not wish to stand by and see roles replaced by cheaper, casual labour in the form of agency contracts, fixed term contracts or zero hour contracts,” Unite said.
“We wish to defend decent jobs in Gibraltar as decent jobs mean decent terms and conditions, which in turn mean that Gibraltarians and cross-border workers can spend and invest in Gibraltar, contributing to a prosperous Gibraltar.”
“Unite the Union and its members will not stand back whilst the curse of casualization continues, will always seek to defend jobs and conditions in Gibraltar.”
“We hope that employers and Government choose to engage with the union when seeking to defend jobs and conditions, as a prosperous Gibraltar sits at the heart of the Union’s agenda.”
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