by Gillian Birkett
Unite the Union wishes a Happy and Prosperous New Year to all working people, whether in employment or not.
2019 will be both a challenging and uncertain year.
As Gibraltar Plc is not in the driving seat, we do not only control events, but we are not clear as to what changes if any will take place as a result of Brexit and how this will impact the lives of working people, or indeed businesses in general.
As our Union marches forward to celebrate our 100th anniversary next year, we will continue to fulfill our traditional role of protecting and improving the lives of those at the lower end of the income bracket who have to struggle to get to the end of the month.
The two major events taking place in 2019 will be the shape of Brexit implementation that will apply to Gibraltar and how this will condition the economic model that sustains our current standard of living, that is, if any degree of Brexit formula is applied, and the forthcoming General Election due to take place during 2019.
This new year message is, therefore, a summary of our wish-list to all political parties contesting the general election once this takes place, (our full manifesto will be delivered to the political parties separately).
One thing is certain: we need an economy that works for everyone in our society. Given the profound changes that may emanate to our way of life, this requires an in-depth economic study to view both the challenges and opportunities that could arise from the new conditions that will flow from the political decisions taken elsewhere but impacting on us.
Information is vital not just to us Trade Unionists, but indeed to businesses and the general public at large. With adequate information, we can collectively examine which Industry Groups are threatened by Brexit, and what inward investments are likely to take place to substitute any possible financial vacuum left by firms so that employment levels and Government revenue are maintained thereby preserving our standard of living and services.
Additionally, if any diversification of our economy takes place, we need to plan the type of retraining required to allow any employees to redeploy into new jobs.
One thing that needs looking into is the configuration of the formula of the RPI figure. To our understanding, the current formula was construed way back in the 1970s at a time in which our economy then was very much different to what it is today.
Having a properly calibrated formula for the RPI is important for working people and businesses to judge the correct level of inflation and services impacting on people.
In line with a new defined RPI figure that reflects the actual cost of living in Gibraltar, there is a need to ensure that wages in particular to low paid workers obtain a living wage above the minimum wage threshold.
Given the above, there is a clear need to create a Joint Economic Forum, in which the Government, Employer’s and Trade Unions can work together for the good of Gibraltar.
Each social partner represents an important part of our community, and we all want the best for our society. For this to work access to existing Government information on economic matters and statistical data is a must.
Over the years, we have highlighted the fact that our vocational training schemes as constituted by successive Governments have not been fit for purpose.
The result has been that many of our youngsters do not end up with employment offers from employers. This outcome is bad for our young people whose pathways are not the University route.
It is bad for employers as we are not providing them with what they need, and bad for the community at large because today we find that there is hardly anyone with craft skills that are necessary to do the jobs that need fixing.
The Government needs to stop undermining the Public Service by its continuing recruitment of agency workers.
The rapid proliferation of such, compounds a two-tier workforce in which the agency workers are the ones with very few employment rights.
It is immoral that the Government (less one that calls themselves Socialist), perpetuates a system that denies workers their entitled employment rights through legal loopholes.
The current practice is destroying the coherence of the public sector by the introduction of second-class employees and demoralising the existing public sector employees — this needs to stop, as promised by the Chief Minister last August in the Gibraltar Chronicle. We need action, not sympathetic words.
Other areas that need improving revolve around subjects like the introduction of Private sector pension schemes to ensure that everyone working in Gibraltar has an occupational pension scheme in addition to the Social Security Pension.
Government is in an ideal position to mitigate the cost of administration fees by providing in-house these resources. Still, within the Private sector, entitlement for sick leave and redundancy compensation requires upgrading as what the law provides at the moment is woefully inadequate.
Still, on matters of pensions, we are still awaiting an end to the discriminatory practices in which there is no equalisation of the Old Age Pension between men and women. Despite EU legislation to end this practice, we have an antiquated scheme that our political class seems intent with maintaining.
It is about time such discrimination ended.
Many workers in the private sector do not enjoy proper and decent employment rights. Some employers benefit from loopholes whereby while individual workers do have the legal right to belong to a Union, the law does not go far enough to allow recognition by an employer of the union right to collective bargaining and conditions of employment in some areas of the private sector on behalf of its members.
In Health and Safety, despite some initial work to improve standards and practices at work, the impetus by Government has waned, and there is much need to restart the work commence to enhance current standards.
In the areas of family-friendly policies, equal opportunities and combating discrimination there is much more to do to allow a level playing field for the full development of everyone’s potential thereby feeling a valuable part of the community. A healthy society is one in which barriers to developing one’s potential are removes either from antiquated legislation or from practices that sustain prejudices.
A happy society is an inclusive society, one where minority groups feel there is a level playing field, one where blatant discrimination against women employees in which by virtue of their sex are not obtaining higher managerial post when more than properly qualified, or even obtaining less money for equal work with their male counterparts.
Let’s make 2019, the year when progress means prosperity for everyone. We take this opportunity to thank our Shop Stewards, Convenors and Activists, and wish our community happiness and a successful year.
Gillian Birkett is the Regional Officer for Unite the Union in Gibraltar.