Gibraltar’s Opposition parties yesterday lambasted Chief Minister Fabian Picardo for his reaction to the teacher’s union demonstration over the handling of its pay claim.
Both the GSD and Together Gibraltar levied criticism at Mr Picardo following Thursday’s demonstration.
But the Government hit back, albeit at the GSD only, accusing the party of hijacking the teachers’ negotiation with the Government.
Additionally, the Government insisted that it has nothing but respect for the teaching professionals.
The GSD accused Mr Picardo of “mocking protestors” while Together Gibraltar highlighted comments he made in a statement post-march which, it said, undermines the efforts the teachers’ union is trying to make.
This comes after hundreds of teachers and their supporters participated in the march as the union – Gibraltar NASUWT – pushed for action on its pay demands.
At the conclusion of the demonstration union President Victor Gonzalez handed Chief Minister Fabian Picardo a letter detailing the five point consensus reached by NASUWT members.
Mr Picardo had returned to No.6 from his son’s birthday party in order to receive the union’s letter and was booed as he collected the letter and returned inside with it.
In a statement the GSD accused Mr Picardo of “openly mocking protestors”, which, it said, represents “the latest gesture of arrogance and disrespect against teachers”.
“The irony is that, as GTA President Victor Gonzalez had already explained at the May Day rally, the demonstration was not just about the pay claim but was about the “arrogance and disrespect” shown by Mr Picardo to teachers.”
“To compound that by chanting “no more lies” back to the crowd in a mocking way Mr Picardo made matters worse,” the party said.
It further accused Mr Picardo of being dismissive about the importance of the demonstration.
“Additionally in his customary way he has tried to erect a smokescreen and blame the GSD for politicising the issue. The GSD have done the opposite of politicising matters. We respected the decision of the Union that politicians should stay away from the demo. We simply expressed support for teachers in their understandable wish for respect.”
GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said: “In Government the GSD would adopt an entirely different approach to Mr Picardo.”
“We would be fair, constructive and respectful to our educators. The GSD is certainly not to blame for Mr Picardo’s behaviour.”
“He is a master of his own actions and people can see that for themselves on video released yesterday. Soon enough people will be able to choose between our vision of respect and constructive engagement with public sector workers and Mr Picardo’s dismissive arrogance.”
GSD MP Edwin Reyes said: “After decades in the teaching profession I know that teachers take the decision to take industrial action and to demonstrate very seriously and would only do so when they feel it is a very last resort.
Teachers understandably deserve respect and are angry about what has happened and the treatment received from Mr Picardo. They deserve better.”
For its part Together Gibraltar expressed “grave concern” over the comments made by Mr Picardo following the NASUWT demonstration.
It said the tone and content of Mr Picardo’s statement “undermines” the efforts of the teachers’ union and its members to show, via a united front, that they are deeply dissatisfied with the way that the government is conducting their pay adjustment claim.
“Unions deserve to be treated with respect and have their concerns acknowledged in a dignified manner.”
“It is unfortunate to see our Chief Minister antagonise teachers by applauding at them cynically outside Number 6 Convent Place and chanting “No more lies. Yes. No more lies…. About the Government.” Whether or not he believes they merit the basic salary adjustment they are seeking, by calling 400 people a “group” and claiming that the demonstration was “made up in large measure of individuals who were not members of the teaching profession” is completely out of order and thoroughly disrespectful to our hard working teachers who have been gearing up to make their voices heard.”
Unfortunately, this all points to part of a bigger issue showing the growing divide between a supposedly socialist government and workers’ organisations.
“Together Gibraltar is committed to putting workers’ rights and public consultation at the forefront of our agenda.”
“We have reached out to the unions and look forward to working closely with Gibraltar NASUWT to ensure that teachers are getting fair compensation and have a say in Gibraltar’s development and education policies going forward, because our teachers are at the heart of Gibraltar’s future and we need to make sure that they are given they respect they deserve.”
In a statement the Government insisted that the amount of engagement it has had with teachers over recent years is “unprecedented”.
The engagement has included monthly meetings involving the Minister for Education and weekly meetings of the Social partnership, the Government said.
“The GSD never did anything like that when Keith Azopardi or Edwin Reyes were in Government.”
“The Chief Minister himself and his team spent a whole day in discussion last year covering a wide range of issues, many of which have been tackled. That is not counting the intensity of work on the new Education initiatives including the new schools.”
“The GSD never did any of that,” the Government said further accusing the GSD of ignoring teachers and their needs, in terms of pay, responsibility allowances (TLRs), buildings and other facilities.
Minister for Education John Cortes said: “The public need to know just how closely we have been working with the teachers’ union, and with teachers as a whole over the past year and a half in particular. And how much progress has been made.”
“We have no argument with them. We have successfully negotiated many matters in recent months and we are currently negotiating a pay claim. I hope we can continue to do so in a spirit of co-operation and without the political opportunistic grandstanding of other parties. But the Union has to address the fact that the demonstration they led yesterday included the shouting of insults in a manner that was not befitting for the teaching profession, as professional role models, to be associated with.”
Mr Picardo said: “I am not surprised to see Keith Azopardi has got out his vote-buying cheque book. He is clearly nervous that buying votes is the only thing that might keep the GSD represented in our Parliament.”
“The GSD did nothing for teachers when they were in Government. Now, as soon as they see a demonstration, they forget about prudence in public finance, they forget about their complaints about the grown of public expenditure and they pretend that they would be paying out the teachers’ claims if they were in Government.”
“The GSD have no shame,” he said.
“The teachers may not yet be happy with the way we have settled their claim, but they are too clever to put any credibility by the statements from the GSD.”
He vowed to continue to work objectively in assessing the potential for a counter offer to be made to the teachers as soon as possible.
“Doing that work and refusing to just accept a claim and write a cheque for the amount claimed is not ‘arrogance’, it is proper prudence and the right approach and mischaracterising my actions will not dissuade me from continuing to act in the best interests of all tax payers, teachers included.”
“Finally, I agree with the union that there is no need for the otherwise excellent relationship to deteriorate further and as I said to teachers in my Bulletin earlier in the week, I shall look forward to continuing to work with them in providing the best education in Europe to our children, both in terms of the infrastructure of our schools and the terms, conditions and remuneration of our teaching professionals.”