Thursday, February 17, 2005

High tension as Management fix Alameda supply

The AquaGib dispute flared into angry scenes yesterday as company managers, working alongside a private contractor, breached the picket line and repaired the burst mains pipe at the Alameda Estate.

When workers learned that repairs were being carried out, they marched to the estate and into Governor’s Meadow House, where the work was underway.

A moderate contingent of police tracked their moves, clearly aware of what was happening on the estate and anticipating the possibility of a confrontation. “Hands in your pockets,” said one worker as the men climbed the steps into the interior patio of the block. But when they realised what was happening, the emotions soon took over. The strikers hurled abuse at the men carrying out the repairs – which included AquaGib managing director Manuel Perez – and engaged in angry exchanges with residents who rushed to their balconies to see what was happening. Older residents watched silently, clearly shocked by the ugly scenes. Younger tenants shouted back at the workers. “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” yelled one. “There are desperate men here too,” an AquaGib worker shouted in return. The ruckus lasted about half an hour and the strikers eventually yielded to police and walked out of the block. Some of them moved closer the Fire Station, where additional repair work was being carried out.

One elderly man in the block, clearly upset at what he had witnessed, tried in a shaky voice to explain how he was feeling, but words failed him.

“Why should we be prejudiced for something that is no concern of ours?” he finally managed to ask.

Amongst the workers, the mood after the event was filled with rage.

“If management had this planned, why didn’t they do it from day one?” asked one.

The strikers talked of escalating the dispute, of intensifying their demands, of fighting back. “We condemn this,” said Charles Sisarello, branch officer at the Transport and General Workers’ Union/ACTS. “It’s ridiculous.” “I mean, for the managing director to be blacklegging the workforce is incomprehensible.” “We are now at the limit,” he told reporters at the scene. “The relationship is going to deteriorate even further.”

Running Water

By mid-afternoon, the residents of Alameda Estate finally had running water again. It took six days to resolve a problem that should have been fixed in hours. For one family in particular though, the hangover from this dispute is far from over. They live next door to the pump room and their flat was flooded by the initial problem. Their furniture, beds, clothing, even their shoes, ruined by the water they subsequently spent all week desperately clamouring for.

Arrangements were also being made to repair the supply of potable water to Merlot House and supplies are now back to normal.

AquaGib said they regretted the inconvenience that the tenants of both sites have suffered and in particular the large number of elderly people that reside at Alameda Estate who clearly could not be properly served by the distribution of bottled water or the standpipe provided during these days.

“We call upon the Union to accept the offer that was deemed ‘acceptable in principle’ by them and to lift the industrial action so as to avoid further inconvenience to the public who should not be deprived of such an essential service,” said Mr Perez.

‘No link to Government Pay’

He responded to the TGWU/ACTS rejecting claims that it had ever accepted that there is a direct link between the company’s pay scales and Government industrial pay scales.

“The offer made by the company provides for increases to their pay scales that not only addresses the concerns of ex Government employees that they should earn more than similar grades in the Government Service but also provides better pay for those employees who are not ex Government employees and who were employed by the company after the privatisation of the service,” said the Managing Director Manuel Perez.

He confirmed that although he had been involved with contractors to repair the corrosion damaged pipes that cut off Alameda Estate, the main task for senior management now remains the continuation of supplies for the public. Supplies remain good at present but he confirmed the company would make a public statement if the need for conserving water arises.

AquaGib say that at the time of privatisation of the Government Water Service those employees who opted to join on company terms had a salary scale that was agreed to by the Union, and that had no connection with any salary scales in the Civil Service but were negotiated as non-industrial conditions.

By 2001 the company salary scale, which was linked to the UK Local Authority Spinal Points, had produced lower pay increases than the non-industrial public service sector. The offer made by the company in 2001 was that there would be a once and for all restoration of the 1991 position, and that increases would no longer be based on the UK Local Authority Spinal Points but would be based on matching the annual pay increases given to the Gibraltar Government Non-industrial Civil Servants,” said Mr Perez.

He added that this offer was accepted by the Union, after a ballot of their members of 57% in favour 43% against.

“We honoured that offer faithfully and provided the increases awarded to Government non-industrial civil servants. Yearly salary increases for non-industrials in the public sector have been agreed up to and including the award due on August 1, 2005,” he said.

AquaGib argue that they have fully met the union demands made last month by offering to carry out a similar one of adjustment to the Company pay scales as was done in the 2001 pay offer and for this to be effective as from 27 January 2005.

Mr Perez confirmed the union were told that the pay offer already puts a heavy burden on the company and that it is unable to raise revenues retrospectively and therefore are unable to meet their additional demand for retrospection.

Responding to the figures produced by the union AquaGib said that the net profit made by the Company in financial year ending March 31 2003 was £448,225 and £403,643 in that of 2004.

“The Union should get advice from accountants on how to read a company’s account before quoting figures out of context that only serve to mislead their members and the public,” he said adding that the only ones not wanting to negotiate is the Union and the employees who, notwithstanding having stated that the offer made by the company was acceptable in principle, have immediately taken strike action to the detriment of the general public”.


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