A year of accomplishment for Unite the Union
In My Opinion
by Victor Ochello, Unite the Union Senior Regional Officer
2015 has been a year full of accomplishments for our union, with wide implications for our membership and community at large. These accomplishments could not have materialised if it were not for the hard work, of our Activists, Shop Stewards, Convenors and Officers, and as such, my sincere and heartfelt thanks and that of the organisation are in order.
March saw the return of our General Secretary, Len McCluskey, in order to re-inaugurate our refurbished premises at Town Range in the presence of Shop Stewards new and old, the Hon Chief Minister Fabian Picardo MP QC and other dignitaries. The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) offices were transformed into a modern and spacious building, fit to meet the demands of a 21st Century organisation which is now freely available for members to make proper use of.
Shortly after the re-inauguration, Unite set its eyes on an often cited yet never accomplished target, that of the inclusion of our organisation in Unite’s National Executive Committee (based in the UK) in order for our community to have a voice inasmuch as Trade Union affairs and wider national interests were concerned. Thanks to the diligent work undertaken by Convenors Marilyn Bramble and Frederick Martin, led by Unite Gibraltar’s Chairperson Louis Gonzalez, an initially bleak prospect was overturned by an overwhelming and absolute majority in favour of our inclusion into the National Executive Council. We are now very competently represented by Marilyn within this prominent committee that has already paid dividends as I will elucidate further on.
Insofar as international matters are concerned our organisation has had a positive year. The Cross Frontier Group (CFG), which our organisation has played a significant part of, has gone from strength to strength. We believe that the CFG has gone some way in conciliating communities on either side of the border and the wider Campo de Gibraltar area. The collaboration between trade union and business interests on both sides of the border have opened up the possibility of creating a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) which will, if brought into fruition, create prosperity which would ultimately lead to a greater understanding of our peoples. This initiative is viewed favourably by our Chief Minister, the Hon. Fabian Picardo QC MP, and almost immediately after signalling his interest in this project, in the San Roque Seminar, practically all ‘Alcaldias’ in the Campo area have now sought to jump onto the bandwagon in the interests of their respective cities. The upcoming year will be exciting for our organisation and our community as we hand over this project, created under a European framework, to the political authorities who are the competent entities to continue down the path which we have facilitated.
In addition, and without devaluing the success of the above mentioned project, Unite, using the increased exposure to the mechanisms behind the European machine and capitalising on our inclusion into Unite’s National Executive and continued membership of the UK’s Trade Union Council, exploited a developing angle which saw our inclusion into the European Trade Union Congress (ETUC), thanks to the work undertaken by our Chair Louis Gonzalez, Executive Committee Member Estibaliz Menoyo and myself, Senior Regional Officer Victor Ochello. The ETUC represents 90 national trade union confederations across 39 countries totalling over 60 million trade unionists. It was an incredible achievement to be accepted amongst the midst of such a prominent organisation in the interests of our community that is able to influence decisions undertaken by the European Commission that affects all member states. Further to Unite’s successful inclusion into the ETUC, Ms Claude Denagtergal and Ms Lina Carr, ETUC Confederal Secretary, will be visiting Gibraltar on a familiarisation visit, where Unite will be extending an invitation to the local and cross border unions that belong to their respective national trade union councils to form an Interregional Trade Union Council (IRTUC).
The IRTUCs bring together the regional trade union organisations of national ETUC-affiliated confederations in cross-border regions. There are 45 IRTUCs, ranging from Sweden in the north to formerly Spain and proximally Gibraltar in the south, from Ireland in the west to Hungary in the east. The relevant national federations and the ETUC Secretariat work together to set up an IRTUC, which can form its own working groups to examine specific local issues. As a consequence, Unite has an ambitious vision for Gibraltar that seeks further integration into the European model in order to challenge, advise, and influence on issues that are of importance to Gibraltar. It is our commitment to our community that Unite will do its utmost to protect and improve our rights as workers and as a people.
Locally, Unite has had another positive year where many terms and conditions have been addressed, yet we are all too aware that a lot more work is necessary in respects to other areas that have long been neglected and now urgently require a spot light on their issues. However, in keeping with the positivity of this message, we would like to highlight the tremendous joint Government / Unite achievement that was the successful transfer of the Defence Fire Service into the Gibraltar public sector, designated as the Gibraltar Airport, Fire and Rescue Service after an incredible 23 year negotiation.
The upcoming year will be as busy, if not more so, than the past year for our organisation where we will put to task the Government in meeting the objectives that we set ourselves out in our Manifesto. Of particular importance are the provisions of an occupational pension scheme for the private sector, addressing the minimum wage and the exploration of a Gibraltarian ‘Living Wage’. The GSLP/Liberal Alliance manifesto was backed by our organisation under the premise that they were offering more in the interests of working people, and with the solid mandate given to the Alliance by the community in respects to our policies contained in their manifesto; such mandate will ease the transposition of these policies into law. We’ve worked positively with the Government and recognise the commitment recently made in Parliament in respects to the provision of pensions in the private sector and we will continue to support the Government in these and other endeavours but we will act robustly if our policies are not met.
We also look forward to the culmination of the work undertaken by our retired branch members; Michael Netto, Alfred Sacramento and Alfred Olivero, who have painstakingly researched the role of Gibraltar’s Trade unions during the Spanish Civil War, which will materialise in a symposium on the 17th February 2016 and where expert international speakers have been invited from both Spain and the United Kingdom. Such an event brings further exposure to our community and the good work we do within it.
In summary, 2015 has been a very positive year. We experienced an internal regeneration of our hierarchy through the democratic elections of Shop Stewards and Executive, a net growth in membership of 6.75% and have been successful in both national and international fronts. The bar for the upcoming year has been set extraordinarily high but we are confident that we will continue to field success after success in all our endeavours. It would be amiss if we were not to spare a thought and a farewell to friends, brothers and sisters, of the Trade Union movement who are no longer among us. We do them a service when we remember and honour them yet continue fighting for the same ideals that they themselves dedicated their lives to.
Finally, Unite acknowledges the trust and support our membership gives our organisation and would like to thank them for as much. I take this opportunity to wish you the best for this 2016.