Friday, February 18, 2005

Cuts loom large in “sombre” Gibraltar Defence Restructure

* 20,000 jobs already lost in UK reshuffle, says Scholefield

The Ministry of Defence yesterday laid out its plan to privatise 296 civilian support posts, in a move that workers fear could mark a dramatic step toward the end of direct MoD employment on the Rock. The plan unveiled yesterday, coupled to a separate process known as Project Pegasus, will already affect up to 600 jobs, or two thirds of the workforce.

Though union leaders are still digesting the fine detail and the implications of the latest proposal, there were clear indications that the restructuring process at the MoD would not end there.

“The issue here is we’re looking across the whole area in Gibraltar, as we’re doing in the UK and other overseas places,” said Susan Scholefield, command secretary for Commander Joint Operations at Permanent Joint Headquarters in the UK. “We’re talking here, with the infrastructure support services [affected by yesterday’s plan], of 300 posts within scope,” added Ms Scholefield, who is responsible for policy matters in UK operations overseas, including Gibraltar.

There is also the issue of the Pegasus work, which again is another 300 jobs within scope. There are 400 MoD posts therefore thereafter, where we are seeking to discuss and work with the workforce to look how we go forward in that area.

Summed up, that means that the entire MoD civilian workforce is subject to possible - and potentially radical - change.

Snub

Despite this, senior military officials insisted, repeatedly, that the UK remained committed to maintaining Gibraltar’s military operational output. They stressed that the moves formed part of a broader, global restructuring process across the British defence sector that has already seen 20,000 military and civilian jobs lost in the UK alone. Ultimately, the MoD is working to save £2 billion in cost efficiencies across its network.

Referring specifically to the latest plan unveiled yesterday, the officials admitted that it would probably lead to job losses in the longer term. The move will involve the transfer of 296 personnel within the Joint Logistics Unit and Defence Estates to a private contractor, which will then become responsible for their management.

The MoD conceded that, with changes in working practices and new technologies, the winning contractor “is likely” to negotiate job losses with the unions.

“It will be for the winning contractor to determine the size and shape of their workforce,” Ms Scholefield said.

What I would say is that the more flexible people are prepared to be, it is obviously in the contractor’s interest to keep that continuity of experience. But it does mean that greater flexibility will be called for, and would be in people’s best interest,” she added.

But yesterday, flexibility was the last thing on the minds of civilian workers throughout the MoD on the Rock. During a hectic morning schedule, Commodore Allan Adair, Commander British Forces in Gibraltar, attended a pre-planned briefing for the support workers affected by the latest MoD move. In an unequivocal snub, less than 40 employees turned up to hear him speak. Of the few that actually attended, most were UK-based staff. Commodore Adair later admitted that he had been “disappointed with the turnout.”

A sombre day for Gibraltar

Earlier that same morning, he and Ms Scholefield had met with union leaders to deliver the fine detail of the plan. Those same union leaders later told the Chronicle that they would have to carefully review the information they had been given before commenting at any length.

But a joint statement from Victor Ochello, MoD convenor for the Transport and General Workers’ Union/ACTS, and Michael Tampin, Gibraltar branch secretary at Prospect (GGCA Branch), left little doubt of their initial reaction, or of the potential scale of the restructuring.

The meeting lasted just over 15 minutes and, from its content, the trade unions must now state that this is a sombre day for the MoD local workforce, Gibraltarians, the Gibraltar Government and Gibraltar itself,” the statement said.

The unions referred to inconsistencies between a prepared statement read by the CBF at the meeting and a draft version delivered at a meeting the previous day. They added that the CBF had made clear that both the latest plan and Project Pegasus would go ahead as planned and that, according to him, “those left will be offered early retirement or redundancy.”

Those words puzzled labour leaders and raised their worst fears.

"We don’t understand what that exactly means and whether that is people left from the move of JLU and Defence Estates and those affected by Pegasus,” the unions said. “Our feeling is it means the other 40% will then be offered redundancy or early retirement package. 100% of the MoD base. We were left to draw our own conclusions.”

The unions see this as confirmation of what they see as “the betrayal and cowardly act” carried by British Defence Minister Adam Ingram, who was in Gibraltar last week to brief Chief Minister Peter Caruana on the plan. “We reject privatisation or contractorisation in any guise or form, as this will mean for Gibraltar, unlike other areas, a recipe for disaster,” the union statement, which was also conveyed to the CBF, said.

But the MoD made clear that it would proceed with the restructuring come what may. Both Ms Scholefield and Commodore Adair stressed that point repeatedly during a lively press conference just before lunchtime yesterday.

“We’re seeking to bring what we genuinely believe is the best practice in this sector to Gibraltar, as we’ve brought it into other areas in the UK,” Ms Scholefield said. “We will, in that sense, be working with people to develop that understanding.” “Things have to change,” she added.

Commodore Adair said:

This is a decision that has been made and it’s my job to implement it.

Cost Savings

The proposal unveiled yesterday will, according to the MoD, result in substantial savings, possibly tens of millions of pounds. At the same time, it will not affect operational output of command. Potential contractors are being invited to submit their details to the MoD and, if they meet the established criteria, will subsequently be invited to tender. The winning firm will be known later this year and will take over responsibility for the work by mid 2006. Under guaranteed employment terms, the 296 personnel involved will transfer to the contractor. Under the terms of the transfer, personnel will also have three options for their pensions – to freeze their pension rights with the MoD; to transfer their pension right to a contractors scheme; or to make personal pension arrangements. In the long term, however, there are no assurances.

“We cannot make guarantees as to what will be the exact outcome of the size and shape of the workforce,” Ms Scholefield told reporters. “What we will be needing to do is to make sure that the contractor can guarantee the services that we require. We are not going to shy away from the reality that, following contractorisation changes in working practices, investment in technology and less supervision or management will likely lead to job losses,” added Commodore Adair. This is tempered slightly by the fact that there will also be new opportunities for re-training, for new skills and potential prospects also for younger members of the workforce within Gibraltar. However, we fully appreciate the concerns, which will be felt across the community as the process rolls out.


One of those concerns, expressed by the unions earlier this week, centres on the fact that past experience shows that privatised MoD jobs in Gibraltar normally end up going to Spanish or imported labour. The process of negotiation, tendering, award of contract and the parallel running period is expected to take up to 18 months.

Operational Commitments

The winning contractor will be required to meet all legal requirements on employment terms as well as health and safety issues. The company will also have to give guarantees and commitments to ensure there is no disruption to operational output and support. All firms invited to tender will have gone through an extensive scrutiny process. Competition is open to all companies – including Gibraltar based firms – who express an interest in response to an advertisement which will be published in the MoD Contracts Bulletin.

We fully appreciate the concerns of uncertainty felt by the workforce and also by the people of Gibraltar as we move into new working patterns,” Commodore Adair said. But in order to maintain our operational commitments and support as well as meet our obligations of accountability to the public purse, we have to take these steps. This new working initiative brings Gibraltar into line with practices in the UK and elsewhere. Commitment doesn’t mean standing still or not evolving and these steps actually underpin our future here.

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