Friday, February 25, 2005

Bossano backs Unions in fight to stop defence cuts

MoD privatisation row - Gibraltar operates by local rule book not UK, says GSLP leader

F Oliva reports

Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano has warned the Ministry of Defence to make a tactical withdrawal from its current position “instead of being defeated in public which is what will happen to them.”

Speaking at a press conference in the party offices, Mr Bossano was in confident mood and said the GSLP/Libs will be politically supporting the Unions for as long as they fight the contractorisation agenda.

Mr Bossano who was joined by representatives of the Gibraltar Trades Council, also accused the MoD of acting in a take it or leave it manner that was “unnecessarily brusque and insulting”.

The GSLP/Libs leader stated that policy decisions such as the one taken by the British Government can be altered, and expressed a message of confidence that this dispute can be won.

“The MoD ought to have learned from their experience that we are a hard nut to crack,” he declared.

Mr Bossano, a former leading trade unionist, was also asked to comment on the political implications for the continued existence of a military base in Gibraltar, following TGWU remarks that they would not accept a military base without jobs. He adopted a more cautious approach and said that the Ministry of Defence should be in Gibraltar on the basis that they employ direct labour and not through contractors.

Mr Bossano further stated that there was a big step between this and telling them to get out, and noted that the MoD themselves could suggest this unless they were permitted to do what they want. He further explained that their position was that Gibraltar is a separate country to UK, that Gibraltar is the host and the MoD have to operate by our rules not by theirs. In Britain, he continued, these rules are drawn up by British politicians and British electorate, while in Gibraltar it is the local politicians and electorate that determine the rules. Mr Bossano was firm on this point and stated that if the MoD could not live by the local rule book, “it was a matter for them.”

The Leader of the Opposition said the manner in which the MoD has gone about this announcement, and from their previous dealings with the Union, showed that they were under no illusions of what the Union reaction would be. Mr Bossano said that if the MoD had sought an agreement to transfer the workforce to a contractor without guarantees, “the Union would have told them what to do with it.”

Mr Bossano argued that there was no precedent for the MoD decision since they were saying that they still needed the work done but at a cheaper price, having the same workforce employed by someone else with worse conditions. He said this was also open to interpretation since it could be suggested that it was an admission by the MoD that the problem was one of “lousy management” that needed to be changed.

In reply to questions, Mr Bossano said there were parallels with the dockyard closure of 1984 and that there were already signs of what was coming in the Defence White Paper of 1980 where the reduction in military presence was already set out.

‘Similarities with Joint Sovereignty Deal’

There are similarities between the MoD dispute and the Joint Sovereignty proposals of 2002 even in the language used by Chief Minister Peter Caruana who referred to the contractorisation decision as “a done deal”, said Mr Bossano in answer to questions. Continuing with the analogy, Mr Bossano argued that what Mr Caruana objected to was the done deal, while he was opposed to the joint sovereignty deal.

I will still have rejected it if 99% of the population had been in favour, just as I would be against the contractorisation even if the Union had supported it.

The Leader of the Opposition also stated that the contractorisation would be de-railed and that this was both “realistic and attainable.”

Mr Bossano also hypothesised on what could happen in the future if the contractorisation process went ahead, and warned that the military base ‘red-line’ could then be uprooted since it was far easier for contractors to be “switched off.”

Mr Bossano added that in such hypothetical circumstances the GSLP/Libs would continue to support the Gibraltar Regiment and arrive at a situation where it could become necessary to re-draft the constitution and assume responsibilities for defence as well.

Responding to questions from GBC (Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation) whether the contractorisation could be interpreted as pay-back time for the rejection of the 2002 joint sovereignty deal, Mr Bossano gave an open reply but noted that the Spanish expectation was that some day in the future in the right climate it could advance its position, but remarked that Spain would first of all have to get its act together, in reference to the public disagreements expressed between the Mancomunidad and the Junta de Andalucia, on the scope of agreements with the Gibraltar Government.

As regards Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, Mr Bossano said that having been such a welcome figure in Gibraltar for breaking ranks with the Blair Government at the time of the joint sovereignty deal, he was now “on course for competing for the kind of treatment we gave Peter Hain and Secretary of State for Foriegn & Commonwealth Affairs Jack Straw when they came here.”
The Opposition met with the Commander British Forces yesterday morning to learn first hand from him what is planned and to make clear its own position.
“There is already an avalanche of outside workers who dominate many parts of the private sector. The only area of employment where the workforce is almost 100% local and where there is long-term security of employment is in the public sector and Government owned companies,” said the Opposition adding that it considers that the only option open to the Unions from day one has been either to capitulate to this imposition and seek to negotiate better terms or to reject it outright and prevent the contractor from taking over come 1st January 2006. The Unions have clearly embarked on the second course and this therefore raises political questions and well as matters of industrial relations, said the GSLP/Libs.

The Opposition are of the view that if the principle is conceded now then it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the MoD jobs go the same way as the first 300.
At yesterday morning’s meeting the MoD confirmed to them that it was going into this with their eyes open but had no room for manoeuvre, the decision has been taken in London and all the consequences factored in.
The Opposition said it believes that the one consequence that has not been factored in is that we have the ability to prevent the ISP contract from being fulfilled and that is “what can and must be done.”
“The UK Government would do better to retreat at this stage with some dignity instead of having to be made to retreat on this one as they were on the Brussels Sovereignty negotiations.”

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