Friday, April 22, 2005

Caruana blasts Union’s “unjustified” position

CFB ambulance service row * Government not willing to increase 30% pension enhancement

Chief Minister Peter Caruana has said that the position of the fire-fighters in the current dispute affecting the City Fire Brigade over the provision of an ambulance service “is wholly unreasonable and unjustified.”

In a statement to the Chronicle yesterday, Mr Caruana rejects what he describes as the “inexplicable” TGWU claim that this was an issue of principle rather than money, and warns fire-fighters that if they no longer wish to man the ambulance, Government will make “alternative arrangements” creating eight new jobs in the St John’s Ambulance.

The Government also rejects that there is any justification or relevance in the case being made by fire-fighters regarding the restoration of earning differentials with fire-operators. A Convent Place spokesman said:

“We wish to respond to the allegations made by firemen in relation to their dispute with Government over their demands relating to the ambulance which they presently operate. Our stance has been described as “take it or leave it”, “threatening”, “bullying” and “anti-democratic”.

The Government wholly rejects these statements and is content for people to judge for themselves whether these are true from the following description of the relevant, underlying facts.

The City Fire Brigade has historically never had a role in the manning of ambulances. Until Government set up a dedicated emergency ambulance service through St John’s Ambulance in 1999, the service was provided by the Royal Gibraltar Police as part of routine shift duties. The normal emergency ambulance service is provided by St John’s under contract to the Gibraltar Health Authority, through full-time, trained staff with two fully manned ambulances.

However, in 2000, the Government wished to cater for the possibility that, as a result of a major incident or a number of incidents happening at the same time, a third emergency ambulance may be required at a given moment.

An agreement was entered into with the fire brigade for them to man this third emergency ambulance. The third emergency ambulance is required to mobilise only when an emergency incident occurs while the other two St John’s emergency ambulances are already out on emergencies. This happens very rarely.

In exchange for providing this back-up service, it was agreed that all firefighters and other employees of the Fire Brigade (even those who do not actually man the ambulance) would be awarded an increase of 26% in their pension upon retirement. The fire control operators, who act as mobilising call centre for all three emergency ambulances (including those operated by St John’s) had negotiated and agreed a slightly different arrangement involving a cash allowance plus a lower pension increase.

In Dec 2003 the fire-fighters became dissatisfied with what they had negotiated and agreed in 2000, and sought to re-negotiate the agreement.

Following a lengthy negotiation, Government made an offer in Dec 2004 which amounted to either a cash allowance of £785p.a. plus a pension enhancement of 26.9% or a pension enhancement of 30% without the cash allowance.

This is not acceptable to the firefighters who are demanding the £785 p.a. plus a 35.6% pension enhancement. They seek to justify this on the basis of “differentials” with the fire-control operators.

The Government does not consider that this focus on differentials is justified or relevant to the question of whether fire-fighters are properly or sufficiently rewarded for this extra, limited stand-by service. And in any case the Government does not accept that the extent of the differential that fire-fighters want to restore is the correct one. Their position is wholly unreasonable and unjustified.

The Government therefore rejects the inexplicable statement by the T&G that the issue is one of principle and not money. There is no issue of principle.

In the Government’s view the original deal which gave fire-fighters a 26% pension increase was itself generous for the nature and extent of service provided by the CFB in respect of the third emergency stand-by ambulance. The December 2004 offer (£785 p.a. in cash plus 26.9% pension enhancement or 30% pension enhancement only) was therefore more than generous and was only made by Government reluctantly. That offer is the Government’s final offer. It is still not acceptable to fire-fighters. The Government is not willing to increase the offer still further to increase pensions uprate further to 35.6%.

The Government is however willing to negotiate an allowance system that is fair and reasonable and thus payable only to those persons who actually man the ambulance when rostered to do so.

The firefighters are fully entitled to decide whether or not they wish to carry on manning the third ambulance on the terms offered and available. But the City Fire Brigade has historically had no role in relation to ambulances. This is not part of firefighters’ work, nor is it in their job description. The firefighters have no right to be allowed to continue to man the ambulance on whatever terms they demand. Their involvement with an ambulance is the subject of a side agreement reached in 1999, separate from their normal job description.

If firefighters no longer wish to carry on with this side agreement that they made in 1999, then Government accepts that they do not have to carry on with it, and Government will make alternative arrangements for a third ambulance. Those alternative arrangements include creating eight new jobs in St John’s Ambulance for young men and women who may presently not have a job at all.”

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