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Industrial action at Customs over plan to exclude Marine Section from shift rotations

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Customs officers belonging to the GGCA union will commence industrial action today over plans to exclude the Marine Section from a shift rotation system.

The union says the move would turn the Marine Section into a “closed shop” and is unfair to officers in other sections.

The GGCA, which represents 135 Customs officers, argues the rotation system provides a fair distribution of shift work and allows opportunities for officers to work in other sections.

The issue has come to a head because the rotation system is reviewed biennially and the new term commences in January.

Wendy Cumming, the president of the GGCA, said the union had urged Customs to consider “creative” solutions potentially including staggered rotations over longer terms. Such arrangements already exist in other Customs sections that require expertise.

“What we want is an even playing field that allows officers to access training and promotion opportunities,” she said.

“Having a closed shop like this makes people feel resentful.”

The industrial action due to start today will involve officers working in plain clothes instead of uniforms, although they will still be clearly identifiable as Customs personnel.

The aim is to minimis disruption to the public, Ms Cumming.

But the action will be reviewed weekly and escalated if necessary, she said.

The row has pitched the GGCA against Unite the Union, which holds the bargaining rights for the Marine Section.

Unite said it could not accept the Marine Section’s inclusion into the Customs biennial rotation agreement because of the specialist nature of the work.

“Following expert recommendations from the Gibraltar Maritime Administration, Maritime Training Organisations and other law enforcement agencies which regulate the standard of maritime officers and the industry, all recommend against a rotation bound by a time limit for the HM Customs Marine Section,” Unite said.

“All sections within HM Customs are equally as important and valuable, however it is important to note that one solution does not fit into every single section, as all HM Customs sections carry their own unique difficulties.”

“Officers within the Marine Section require to be trained to high standard with external accreditation before being able to be considered competent to navigate through the vastly challenging sea environment, with the individual’s hours clocked out at sea being of paramount importance when protecting the well-being of our membership.”

Unite said it was currently engaging with its membership to formalise a structured approach that allows for transferability between the Marine Section and other HM Customs sections, without Marine Section transfers being bound by any time restrictions which, it said, would place all HM Custom officers at risk.

This will include the proviso for any expression of interest by any Customs officer looking to transfer to the Marine Section.

On Thursday, Unite urged the GGCA to work to deliver an outcome that protected their combined membership “and not create a divide and conquer scenario”.

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