Saturday, April 23, 2005

We will not be intimidated by Government, say Fire Fighters

City Fire Brigade industrial dispute continues

As the fire-fighters dispute continues with no immediate solution in sight, the TGWUhas called on the Gibraltar Government to withdraw their “take it or leave it threat” which they say, “is not conducive to reaching an agreement.”

Speaking to the Chronicle yesterday, Branch Officer Charlie Sisarello also rejected the Chief Minister’s assertion earlier this week that the Union claim was unreasonable, and stated that the dispute lay in a difference of interpretation regarding the relativity in earnings that Government had accepted in the fire-fighters argument.

He said the increase they seek should not be seen as a ‘jump’ from zero to 35.6% but one going up from what Government has already approved which is a 30% enhancement.

For its part the TGWU/ACTS say they will take up the official side offer to sit down and negotiate a system that is “fair, reasonable and satisfactory to both sides.” Mr Sisarello said:

“We do not consider our claim as unreasonable or unjustified. The issue at stake is maintaining the relativity that existed with the Fire Control Operators at the time of full mobilisation of the third ambulance agreement in 1999.”

Meanwhile fire-fighters have produced a leaflet under the heading of “The True Facts” where they set out to rectify the “distorted information” on the dispute they believe has been put out “by Convent Place spin doctors”, while vowing not to be intimidated by the Gibraltar Government.

They say that since an agreement breaking parity differentials signed by the Government in 2002, “fire control operators manning phones now earn more than fire-fighters.”

According to the fire-fighters the administration has also threatened them with the withdrawal of the ambulance arrangement altogether, if their offer is not accepted by next Friday April 29.

Sisarello defends Fire Fighters

Mr Sisarello continued:

“At present, fire fighters do not get any enhancement in their pay. What they will get in the future is an increased gratuity and pensions of 26% over their salary. This means that this will only be payable on retirement. A 30 year old fireman will not be getting this incentive until he reaches the age of 55 years. He will have to wait 25 years to get it. As such there is no current expenditure paid to fire fighters.

In the 1999 negotiations, fire fighters had two options, either an annual non-pensionable cash allowance for carrying out this extra duty, or no current remuneration and all the increase for pensionable purposes in their final salary. The fire fighters proposed the second option and Government agreed, and it was established that their final salary would be increased by 26% on retirement for pensionable purposes.

Meanwhile their counterparts in the control room agreed an 18.8% increase in their pay emoluments for pensionable purposes plus a non-pensionable cash allowance. Subsequently this non-pensionable allowance became pensionable. Thus the fire control operators are currently receiving this cash allowance which is reckonable for pensions purposes.

The claim submitted by ACTS on January 17 on behalf of the fire-fighters called for this issue to be addressed. The Government agreed in principle that the fire-fighters had a genuine case and as such addressed this problem by offering an increase in their basic salary for pensionable purposes on retirement. The dispute has arisen from the fact that, for Government, maintaining the relativity that existed between the two grades amounts to increasing their pensionable pay from 26.9 to 30%. For ACTS the amount required for establishing the 1999 differentials, is an increase in the final salary for pensionable purposes of 35%.

It must also be understood that the 1999 agreement was reached because it was costing the Government £10,000 a month to cover this service as it was performed on an overtime basis.”

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