Friday, January 28, 2005

Gibraltar Civil Servants in Londond for Spanish Pension talks

• Gib no responsibility, say GSLP/Libs

Gibraltar Government Chief Secretary Ernest Montado and the Director for Social Security Mario Gomila are in London today to attend talks on pensions under recently agreed Gibraltar – Spain – UK trilateral process. The issue being discussed is the claim by Spanish former Gibraltar workers on their pension entitlement. The meeting is being held at a technical level.

Meanwhile the GSLP/Libs has said that the position is “clear and publicly known to all concerned” and that Gibraltar has no responsibility in this matter. “It is difficult to understand why this requires a meeting of experts or what any Gibraltar expert can contribute to such a meeting,” Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano said yesterday.

Mr Bossano further argued that there is no indication that Britain is prepared to make any re-valued payments of the frozen pension but that if it is reconsidering its position, local pensioners would be equally entitled “if these are made to Spanish workers so that they are treated in the same way.” He continued:

A meeting today under the agreed new framework announced last year will discuss the claim of former Spanish workers receiving a pension from the UK Government in respect of their pre-1969 social insurance contributions. In this first meeting there will be participation by experts from Gibraltar, Spain and UK to consider the technical aspects. The Spanish Government view appears to be that the purpose of this exercise is to convince UK and Gibraltar of their respective responsibilities in the alleged discrimination against Spanish pensioners.

In 1989 the UK Government agreed to pay re-valued pensions to former Spanish workers for five years only and on condition that they remain frozen in that period. At the end of the period, in 1993, the Social Insurance fund was dissolved at the insistence of the UK Government who said there was no obligation to pay any further pensions at all. In 1996 when the UK was on the point of being taken to court by the European Commission, the UK Government reversed its position and offered to pay pensions for life subject to the same conditions imposed in 1989 that they remained frozen. Since the grievance of the Spanish pensioners is that the pensions should not have been frozen in 1989, and this was a policy decision taken by UK Government, it requires no technical analysis. It simply requires to persuade London that they should reverse the decision they took in 1989, just like in 1996 they reserved the decision taken in 1993 which had been to discontinue payment and dissolve the fund.

As far as we are aware, there is not the slightest indication or hint on the part of UK Government of a willingness to change its position and increase payments, either currently or backdated to 1989. It is therefore difficult to understand the optimism expressed by the Mayor of La Linea, following his meeting with the Spanish Director General for Europe Mr Pons, that this matter is going to be resolved.

If UK is reconsidering its position and planning to reverse the conditions it imposed originally, then this should be confirmed to persons receiving social insurance pensions from the Gibraltar fund, who would be equally entitled, from the local fund, to revaluation of their frozen pensions and backdated payments if these are made to Spanish workers so that they are treated in the same way. This would require legislation to be passed by the House of Assembly. The Opposition are therefore entitled to know whether UK is planning to do this or not given that such a move would have legislative effects. There are also financial implications for the resources required from the Social Insurance Fund which, as has been pointed out on several occasions, has been shrinking since 1996.

Commenting on the talks on pensions Mr Caruana last night said that the Gibraltar Government is, as is has always been, happy and willing to provide information and also explanations and reasons for its well known position on this issue.

This position will not change. But we welcome this fresh opportunity to explain our position directly to our Spanish interlocutors and thus help to ensure that Spanish public opinion, especially in the Campo, does not hold Gibraltar culpable or responsible, with consequent ill effect on cross border relations.


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