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Govt urges GGCA to rethink DSS industrial action

Industrial Relations Minister Steven Linares said it was "totally unacceptable" that people could be left facing financial hardship due to union action.

The Government of Gibraltar said it was “dismayed” by news that the GGCA had declared a dispute at the Department of Social Security, where staff will cease to answer emails and phones as from Monday.

The Government said it was particularly concerned that the union was pushing on with the industrial action even while acknowledging that it would impact on services, including the payment of benefits to people who rely on them to make ends meet.

The GGCA said the action was in response to poor working conditions that had driven staff to “breaking point.”

The DSS had been housed in a dilapidated building since 2019, but were evacuated in January after water penetration rendered the electrical system unsafe and caused a ceiling to collapse.

Since the evacuation the department has been “homeless,” with staff working from home and from small temporary offices provided by other departments.

But the Government said the delays in finding new offices for the DSS had arisen through circumstances out of its control and the staff and their union had been kept informed.

The Minister for Industrial relations, Steven Linares, said: “I am genuinely disappointed that the GGCA have decided to take industrial action when Government has kept the union and its members fully abreast of all developments and given that they knew full well that the works for the new premises for DSS staff will be complete very soon.”

“The union and its members know that the works were delayed for well-known reasons and in respect of which the Government had no control.”

“It goes without saying that I have also met personally with the staff in order to hear their concerns and to keep them updated.”

“Given that the permanent solution of housing the entire DSS staff in modern and excellent new premises is, approximately, six weeks away, I sincerely trust that the GGCA will reconsider its decision to proceed with this entirely unnecessary industrial action.”

“I ask the union and its members to especially take into account the wholly unjustifiable financial hardship that its actions will cause to blameless and vulnerable members of our community, and individuals in need, who will suffer.”

The Government said DSS staff had been working extremely hard to maintain their services and praised their professionalism in challenging circumstances.

It also acknowledged that they had “gone out of their way” to ensure that everyone who is in receipt of a benefit was paid promptly to avoid financial hardship.

But it said to that identifying suitable alternative premises for the DSS had proved difficult.

“We are now very close to the date when the permanent premises will be handed over to the DSS,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

“Therefore, the Government considers that it is totally unacceptable that services to the public should be negatively affected, especially the payment of benefits to vulnerable members of our community, and other individuals in need of such payments, who will unnecessarily suffer economic hardship as a result of this industrial action.”

“This is particularly the case in circumstances where Government has communicated directly with the GGCA President, Wendy Cumming, who is aware that a permanent solution to house the entire DSS staff will be completed by, approximately, mid-June.”

The DSS will shortly move into new offices at New Harbours from where Housing Department officials currently work.

While that site is prepared, the Government said it had ensured staff at the DSS had temporary arrangements in different government premises and made other arrangements for remote working.

“Regrettably, the works have not yet been completed for reasons over which the Government has had no control,” it added.

“Moreover, the furniture for the staff at the new Housing Department offices is estimated to arrive within the next four weeks, and it is envisaged that the physical move should not take longer than a week.”

The relocation of DSS staff will ensure that they have a new, permanent home within the next six weeks.

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