Saturday, March 12, 2005

Bossano spells out Gibraltar dilemma and gives ultimatum to MoD

F. Oliva reports

Military base contractorisation * No kow-tow to London, says the GSLP (Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party) leader

We lay down the rules of how the Ministry of Defence operate in Gibraltar, that was the uncompromising message spelt out by the Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano during yesterday’s session of the House of Assembly.

Defending a motion against the cutbacks in the military base, Mr Bossano declared that if the MoD are not prepared to accept that, they would have to decide whether they stay here or not, while in turn, Gibraltar would have to decide whether we want them enough “to give them a blank cheque.”

The Opposition leader also rejected what he said was the version the MoD puts out that because the military head has orders from above, the rest must kow-tow to them, reiterating that the Secretary of State cannot give orders to the people, parliament or Government of Gibraltar.

Mr Bossano urged the Gibraltar Government to implement legislation as quickly as possible as a deterrent to any prospective bidders for the MoD work, and suggested that the House reconvene specifically to deal with this issue.

Gibraltar Government considering a "raft of measures".

Meanwhile Chief Minister Peter Caruana said that the MoD must be “living in cloud cuckoo-land” if it thought the Gibraltar Government would remain idle in the face of the potential loss of hundreds of pensionable jobs in what he described as “an act of wholesale and wanton destruction of 60 years of social engineering in Gibraltar.”

Mr Caruana said the MoD had enjoyed exemptions and privileges on the Rock because the relationship had been one of “quid pro quo,” stating that “the whole thing was now up for review.” He said the MoD move would cause huge adverse consequences to individuals and the economy of Gibraltar.
He added that the MoD will find itself embroiled in industrial unrest from the Unions, and legislative measures and legal action from the Gibraltar Government. Mr Caruana had already sought a legal opinion to establish whether this process amounted to a transfer of undertakings or just the privatisation of labour for the benefit of the MoD, and that they [the MoD], had a better chance of achieving part of their objectives through negotiations with the Union.

Earlier Mr Bossano said it would be opportune to send a clear message of support to the workforce and Unions in terms of the backing from elected representatives.
Predicting the eventual outcome of the dispute, the GSLP leader also questioned whether there was a masochistic wish in the British Government “to be defeated again.”

In his reply Chief Minister Peter Caruana said that the MoD plan was to contractorise the labour force rather than any specific service, and argued that the fact that these policies may be reasonable in UK, did not mean that they would be necessarily reasonable in Gibraltar which had its own special set of circumstances to contend with. He also urged them to take into account these differences regardless of what they consider their legitimate objectives to be.

He said Gibraltar as a frontier town economy, was unprotected from the freedom of movement of workers in an area with a huge potential for the exportation of jobs. He gave the example that if the MoD contractorise 50 gardening jobs in Aldershot or Faslane, the next 50 gardeners in the list are also going to be residents of the city, while in Gibraltar’s case this was not necessarily so.

Mr Caruana defended the need for a negotiated agreement between MoD and Unions on the way forward, but reiterated that it was not legitimate or acceptable for the British Government to proceed in a unilateral, imposed form or for the MoD to roll back one hundred years of trade union practice in Gibraltar.

Even those people who would agree with the MoD or the Gibraltar Government applying a policy of value for money in its departments would find the unilateral approach unacceptable, he said.

The Chief Minister said his Government supported the Union’s policy of resistance to the MoD plans and that it was still not known how many jobs would be left in the base 13 months after the contractorisation, suggesting that up to 800 pensionable jobs could be lost. The contractors, he continued, would decide driven by their profit margins. Mr Caruana graphically stated that all the MoD was prepared to do was to “hold the hand” of those who were going to be affected by this, “through the period of grief” while they had a “nervous breakdown.”

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