Unite the Union vowed to carry on holding demonstrations should the Gibraltar Government fail to take action on “unfair” working practices in Gibraltar, as it demanded “action instead of promises”.
Backed by demonstrators chanting “enough is enough”, Unite officials led a march from Casemates Square to No.6 Convent Place where a one-minute silence was held in recognition of those “suffering the consequences of agency work”, and on to Transport House.
The peaceful but lively demonstration saw members brandishing signs which read “Too many young workers humiliated”, “Contratos basura a la basura” and “Fabian, greedy capitalism is the cause of our problems”.
Unite was also backed by Gibraltar’s other unions – the GGCA and NASUWT Gibraltar – in support of the principle at the heart of the action, the “misuse” of supply and agency workers.
Unite Regional Officer Victor Ochello said it was important for the union to “show its strength” in bringing all its members out in support of the issues at stake.
Mr Ochello said he hoped the action would spark further negotiations but insisted these must be meaningful negotiations.
“We can’t stand any longer any void promises or just extending time because of elections or Brexit…we want action,” he added.
Stuart Davies, the newly appointed National Officer responsible for Unite Gibraltar, told the Chronicle: “Today is important because we are at a crossroads as far as the union is concerned in relation to the employment practices that are prevalent across Gibraltar.”
He flagged the “insecure work” in respect of supply and agency workers as well as fixed term and zero-hour contracts.
“Today is about sending out a message that says that these roles should be permanent, should be properly paid, should have proper training and should have proper career prospects,” Mr Davies said.
But, the run-up to the demonstration proved controversial, as Unite accused the Government of taking steps to make it difficult for civil servants and public sector workers to participate.
At the heart of the row was an instruction issued by Chief Secretary Darren Grech to Heads of Department across the civil service, in which he advised that any workers attending the demonstration should have the absence logged and their pay deducted for the time missed.
Additional, department heads were told not to approve any new annual leave requests for the day and to ensure minimum staffing levels were maintained.
Unite said this was at odds with the government’s public statement supporting the right of union members to demonstrate.
Unite official Christian Duo put the number of attendees at close to 2,000 – the Royal Gibraltar Police put the figure at 1,200 – and insisted more would have joined the demonstration but various heads of department “had not made life easy” for members and reps.
“It hasn’t been easy to get people out,” Mr Duo said adding: “Even though there was a very welcoming message from the Chief Minister welcoming and supporting the action the reality on the ground has been different to that.”
“But this is not the end, if there’s no change we will come out again,” he said.
Current legislation in Gibraltar enables an employer to engage an agency worker for twelve months before having to provide parity with permanent colleagues in respect of pay and other basic conditions of employment.
This twelve month qualifying period is at odds with the same UK legislation where the qualifying period for parity is twelve weeks as opposed to months.
Yesterday’s action was also significant for drawing the support of the Rock’s other trade unions.
GGCA president Wendy Cumming reiterated calls the white collar union has previously made for the recommencement of the AA recruitment process that was suspended in June 2015.
“We feel that supply workers need to be given the opportunity to apply for permanent posts with terms and conditions that are equivalent to other entry level civil servants,” she said.
On the coming together of the unions in this manner Ms Cumming said: “This is something that we’ve always wanted.”
“Obviously where we have a clear principle that is in the interests of the worker we feel it is imperative for all unions to come together to address the problem.”
Additionally, Gibraltar NASUWT president Victor Gonzalez said: “It’s been an incredible turnout today and obviously it’s a trade union issue which we have to support as a matter of principle.”
Yesterday evening, the Gibraltar Government the demonstration as the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo explained that he had not come out of No.6 to meet the demonstrators at the request of the leadership of Unite.
“I acknowledge the message from those demonstrating and I welcome the constructive and positive engagement with the issues represented by the newly appointed National Officer with responsibility for Gibraltar, Stuart Davies, who I have known for some time,” Mr Picardo said.
“I look forward to working with Stuart and the leadership of Unite in Gibraltar in resolving the issues relating to agency workers in the Civil Service, as I have already said we will do. I also look forward to discussing the issues that Stuart has set out in his public statements today.”
“As a member of Unite myself for more than 20 years, I support the right to peacefully demonstrate to make a political point and I will not ignore the views represented by those demonstrating.”
“This Monday the Cabinet has already agreed it will only have two agenda items, Brexit and the issue of agency workers, so that we resolve the latter matter as quickly as possible.”
“I also look forward to continuing the other good work I have done with Unite in so many areas since I was elected, not least in respect of the introduction of pensions in the private sector and the recognition of trade unions. There is a lot we have done together and a lot still to do.”
Ahead of yesterday’s demonstration the GSD had thrown its weight behind the action having worked to draw attention to the issue in and out of Parliament since before the last general election in 2015.
Pics by Johnny Bugeja