Thursday, June 30, 2005

Protest not likely to stop privatisation - MoD Command Secretary

The British government had anticipated protests of the sort seen yesterday and is unlikely to change its mind on the privatisation of jobs at the Naval Base, a senior Ministry of Defence official said yesterday.

Phil Mallion, Command Secretary at Headquarters British Forces Gibraltar, told the Chronicle that public and political opposition had been factored into the equation before the decision to privatise jobs was taken in London.

His comments followed the mass demonstration yesterday morning and were the first public statement by the MoD on the privatisation since local trade unions filed a legal challenge on May 12 in a bid to stop the proposal.

“I don’t see the decision [to privatise jobs] being put on hold as a result of today’s activities or the legal hearing,” Mr Mallion said yesterday.

“This won’t have come as any surprise to the Secretary of State for Defence and senior civil servants in UK because logic tells us that in making a decision of this gravity, you’re going to get this sort of reaction from a population like the Gibraltar population.

You only have to look back at the sovereignty issue to see exactly the same sort of thing, the groundswell of opinion. So it would have been anticipated.”

Mr Mallion told the Chronicle that MoD lawyers in Gibraltar and London would scrutinise this week’s legal judgement that allows the unions to proceed with their challenge in a Gibraltar court, adding that an appeal on the issue of jurisdiction had not been ruled out.

He said the MoD had taken note of the decision by the Chief Justice in the first stage of the legal claim by local trade unions, adding that it had served to bring clarity on some “cloudy” issues. The next step, he said, was for the ministry’s lawyers to examine the judge’s written judgement before deciding whether to appeal or not. That decision will be taken in London.

The MoD has 14 days from the ruling in which to ask the court for permission to file that appeal.

Mr Mallion said that from the point of view of the privatisation, the important thing was to move on to the “substantive” issues, that is, the issues at the heart of the challenge.

"So far, the court case has focused on legal arguments about who can or cannot be sued, and whether or not the case can be heard in Gibraltar. Where it’s heard, from an ISP [privatisation] perspective, is not the most critical thing. The most critical thing is ‘have the MoD done wrong in acting in the way they have?’

We haven’t heard that argument yet and our legal advisors remain confident that when that argument is heard, we’re confident of success.”

As for the process of finding a contractor to take over the jobs at Naval Base, the MoD is currently drawing up a document – known as a ‘statement of requirement’ - setting out in detail what it actually wants from the privatisation. This will be sent out in due course to contractors selected from a list of those that have already submitted expressions of interest.

Mr Mallion said that the process had been slowed down, though not stopped altogether, in order to accommodate the legal hearing. “Whilst we’ve yet to re-set the timetable because of this slowing down, the process carries on,” he said.

He also reiterated the MoD’s willingness to talk to the unions on issues relating to the impact of the privatisation decision, such as pensions and early exit packages.
“We’d welcome the opportunity to sit down and discuss them,” he said. “But the decision remains unchanged.”

Related Links:

30 June 2005 - >MOD workers say ‘NO’ to base contractorisation

29 June 2005 - Reform Party congratulates demo organisers and participants

29 June 2005 - Chief Justice gives Union go ahead to challenge cuts

28 June 2005 - GTC urges mass turn out at MoD demo

28 June 2005 - Government Regrets Teachers' Union Dismay

21 June 2005 - Unions and MoD clash in court

12 May 2005 Unions escalate MoD dispute

19 April 2005 Unions declare a united front on MoD Contractorisation

12 April 2005 MPs urge Hoon to halt ‘Done Deal’

Gibraltar News Online Contractorisation Poll

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