Friday, March 11, 2005

Caruana to press Hoon to halt cuts

The MoD chief’s visit sparks further discord with unions

Peter Caruana, the Chief Minister, will fly to London next week to meet Geoff Hoon, Defence Minister, in a bid to stem the planned MoD cuts. The meeting on Thursday is a first step in a broad strategy to block the ‘done deal’ on 300 jobs and further planned job losses.

MoD will not get their way,” said Mr Caruana yesterday.

“They cannot just dictate, ignore trade unions, ignore industrial relations and negotiations and impose their wish on the workforce and Gibraltar as a whole.”

The remarks followed a meeting between Mr Caruana and Commander Joint Operations, Air Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, who was visiting Gibraltar for the first time. He was due to make his initial visit to the Rock in January but the visit was postponed as a result of the death of Commodore David White. He also met Sir Francis Richards, the Governor, Commodore Alan Adair, Commander British Forces and other members of British Forces Gibraltar.

Lessons

Mr Caruana highlighted in a GBC interview that Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister who flew out to tell him about the cuts, is a former TGWU officer.

“They should learn some of the lessons that they used to preach when they were in another incarnation,” he said in reference to the Blair Government.

Mr Caruana said that the rescheduled familiarisation visit had given him the opportunity to raise the current MoD issues of contractorisation. The encounter, he said, was “friendly, frank and difficult.” The Gibraltar Government message to Sir Glenn was clear – even if it is legitimate for the MoD to seek genuine efficiency savings and even if it were necessary from a budgetary point of view to inflict some cuts “the extent the manner and the methodology – the done deal nature of this – is wholly unacceptable.”

Mr Caruana said that he had made it clear to the Chief of Joint Operations that the MoD has got to engage in a process of meaningful negotiation. He said the MoD will not achieve its aims in the manner it is proceeding.

Unrest

The Chief Minister warned that unless there are meaningful negotiations the next two years would see industrial unrest, legislative action by the Government and litigation.

“The MoD are going to be embroiled in a process that in any event is going to prevent them implementing in full their objectives in the way they want to,” he said. Sir Glenn had been told about the strength of unity in Gibraltar including the Government and unions and the steps that will be taken.

“They have to sit down with the union and negotiate a package that delivers as much as they can negotiate with the unions in an agreed manner and in an agreed timetable,” he said adding that they must abandon the unilateral decision “which is colonialism of the Victorian variety.”

Mr Caruana said that all 1,100 MoD jobs are up in the air because the MoD whilst seeking to contractorise 300 jobs which would then, subsequently be reduced by the winning company to an unknown level. Pensions rights are uncertain, he said.

This comes in addition to existing discussions on 300 jobs under Pegasus involving areas such as cleaning, transport. Then MoD still want to cut down on the remaining 400 direct labour jobs.

Mr Caruana said there needs to be negotiations on how many jobs can be subject to contractorisation and then on how many should be left as direct labour. The Government’s position, said Mr Caruana, is that the solution should be on the basis of in-house labour and not contractorisation.

Bad Faith

Mr Caruana said that the last time he met with Mr Hoon he had said that MoD need efficiency cuts but that he was not obsessed with contractorisation if they could be achieved by in-house methods. This is what had led to Pegasus but then the MoD, without any notice, landed a done deal. “That is not a good faith way in which to proceed,” he said.

Union Anger

Meanwhile, local trade unions have accused the Ministry of Defence of issuing “half-truths” and closing the door to reasonable dialogue, as the dispute over the privatisation plans for the military base continues. In a statement issued yesterday the alliance of trade unions consisting of TGWU-ACTS and Prospect have also rejected the MoD version of why they had declined to meet with the visiting Air Marshall under the Whitley process. A spokesman said:

We are once again undermined by MoD half-truths that we were unable to accept an offer to meet Commander Joint Operations Air Marshall Sir Glen Torpy on occasion of his visit to Gibraltar, due to our withdrawal from the Whitley process.

An offer from Command was extended to us to meet Air Marshall Torpy, but with the imposed condition that the invitation could only be accepted through the Whitley structure.

It is true to say that the trade unions have formally withdrawn from the Whitley process due to the fact that the MoD itself had not used the recognised procedure, by not consulting with us prior to the Armed Forces Minister’s announcement. The trade unions did convey to Command that we were willing to meet with him as we had always left the door open for dialogue but could not do so through a Whitley that Command themselves had ignored. The MoD once again have closed our open door to reasonable dialogue.”

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