Thursday, May 12, 2005

Unions escalate MoD dispute

Local trades unions have taken their battle against the Ministry of Defence’s privatisation plans to court, in a move that marks a sharp, if widely anticipated escalation in the ongoing dispute.

In a development that comes just days after the appointment of Dr John Reid as the UK’s new Defence Secretary, lawyers acting for the Transport and General Workers’ Union/ACTS and Prospect Union yesterday served a legal claim on the MoD. They are calling on the court to halt the privatisation process and oblige the ministry to review its plans.

The unions accused the MoD of failing to provide sufficient and accurate information on the plan “at the right time”, adding that it had also failed to engage them in “real and meaningful” negotiations at any stage in the process. In failing to do this, they claimed that the MoD’s actions “…have been in breach of sections of the Employment Ordinance giving effect to European law rights of workers in the context of the transfer of an undertaking, as well as of constitutional and human rights which protects the employees.”

In simple terms, the unions believe that the MoD is failing its workers and breaking the law in the way that it has gone about seeking to transfer responsibility for its employees to a private company. In a statement issued last night, they added that the MoD had bypassed contractual obligations that require it to undergo a process of consultation with its workers.

“The MoD wishes to limit its consultation to implementation of contractorisation and no more, in effect seeking to turn the Unions into their own members’ ‘willing executioners’,” the union statement said.

“It is the Unions’ firm stance that they will not be unlawfully co-opted in this way and that the MoD will instead be made to do its duty under law.”

Last night, Headquarters British Forces reiterated previous statements that the MoD’s actions had complied fully with the law.

The message was brief, but it left little doubt that the MoD disagreed with the unions’ assessment.

“Existing MoD UK and local legal advice is that no breaches of employment contracts or ordinance have occurred,” said Phil Mallion, Command Secretary at the Tower.

Over the next few weeks, the court will have to assess the information provided by both sides in the dispute before reaching a decision on the next course of action.

TGWU/Acts and Prospect are represented locally in this joint action by law firms Hassans and Attias & Levy respectively. The MoD is represented locally by Isola & Isola.

As the legal procedures roll on, the process of receiving and evaluating the bids submitted by private companies interested in the MoD contract will most likely continue unaffected. A number of ‘expressions of interest’ have already been received.

Yesterday, the unions said that the MoD’s handling of the privatisation plan was already taking its toll on the workforce.

“The Unions emphasise that the failure to inform and consult properly has already given rise to real detrimental effects on some of the employees and, if left unchecked, will go on to do more,” the statement said.

TGWU/Acts and Prospect are asking the court to impose a remedy that will stop the privatisation process. They also want the court to force the MoD to withdraw all communications that it has had with workers on the plan, including letters it has sent to employees advising them that their jobs fall within the scope of the privatisation proposals.

Finally, they are asking the court to require the MoD to go back to the start of the process and involve the unions in finding ways of achieving the efficiencies and savings that it requires. The Union statement concluded:

“It is still open to the MoD to acknowledge its mistake and do what the law says it should, without the wasteful expense of a court trial.

The Unions invite the MoD to see sense and to go back to working together.

In that way, gains might be achieved which will benefit the MoD, its employees and the economy and the people of Gibraltar as a whole.”


Related Links:

MoD Contractorisation Poll - 19 March 2005

Unions give deadline to MoD for withdrawal of plan - 30 March 2005

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