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Sir Joe risks making austerity ‘respectable’, Unite’s McCluskey says

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite the Union, yesterday accused Sir Joe Bossano of holding views that could be used to justify austerity as “a respectable philosophy”.

Mr McCluskey was responding after Sir Joe last week wrote to the union boss rejecting claims that he was “pushing austerity” in regards to public sector pay.

This was the latest in a string of exchanges stemming from Sir Joe’s assessment that the public sector in Gibraltar is, in its current form, “unsustainable economically and indefensible socially”, particularly with Brexit looming.

The cost of public service, Sir Joe had said, is currently £50m a month, with payroll accounting for a third of this sum and civil service pay in Gibraltar currently at 25% more than in the UK.

Sir Joe stressed that while average earnings in the public sector grew from £33,600 in 2011 to £40,600 in 2017, growth in the private sector went from £23,300 to just £26,700 in the same period.

Mr McCluskey has known Sir Joe since they were union shop stewards in the 1970s, but Unite’s chief expressed disappointment with the current views expressed by the minister.

“The 1970s Joe I knew then would have read your recent letter explaining the difference between austerity and the “unsustainable level of Public Service pay” and said that it was a rose by any other name,” Mr McCluskey wrote in an open letter to Sir Joe.

“Your comparison of Public Sector pay and Private Sector pay intimates that somehow Public Sector workers should ‘allow’ Private Sector workers to catch up by standing still on pay reviews.”

“This is wrong and a clear definition of austerity which has failed miserably in the UK and the rest of Europe, leading, worryingly, to people turning to extreme right-wing/neo-fascist political parties in many countries including Spain.”

And he added: “Instead of seeming to blame Public Sector workers, most of whom are Unite members, you should seek ways of increasing wages in the Private Sector - increase the minimum wage to make it a Real Living Wage; influence private companies who receive government contracts to recognise Unite so that we can push wage levels upwards.”

“These private companies can afford it, they make good profits.”

“Your views may well assist other political parties to see austerity as a respectable philosophy. I believe your Chief Minister’s view of investing is more helpful to sustaining a growing economy.

This is the view that socialists across Europe and especially in the UK have been advocating.”