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Teachers march on No.6 and set deadline in pay dispute

Teachers Demo 020519 { seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) from Casemates to No 6 where they presented a letter to the CM

The teachers’ union has given the Gibraltar Government one week to accept its pay claim in full or offer a “credible counterproposal”, warning that failure to adhere to that deadline will result in industrial action.

It is just one of a number of demands set out by Gibraltar NASUWT in a letter which it handed to Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday at the conclusion of a march from Casemates to No.6 Convent Place.

Hundreds of teachers and their supporters participated in the demonstration, which was backed by Gibraltar’s other unions, Unite and the GGCA.

According to the Royal Gibraltar Police, some 200 demonstrators set off from Casemates but by the time the group reached No.6 their number had swelled to “between 400 to 500”.

Demonstrators brandished signs which read ‘You can’t put students first if you put teachers last’ and ‘If you can read this sign thank a teacher’.

Protestors chanted ‘No more lies’ and demanded immediate action as they marched through the heart of town.

Mr Picardo had returned to No.6 from his son’s birthday party in order to receive the union’s letter and was met with boos as he stepped outside.

Yesterday’s action follows a long-running dispute in which the union had blasted the Government for failing to progress a pay claim filed in June of last year.

The Government has urged prudence and highlighted that the teaching complement is a large one, approximately 380 strong, and that the settlement of the claim will have wide-ranging implications for the public purse.

Nonetheless, the Government underscored that the claim had not been rejected and continues to be carefully considered.

In a statement Mr Picardo said: “I have already seen the content of the letter but I wanted to be here to receive those demonstrating.”

“We have always treated unions and teachers with respect and will continue to do so.”

“I wrote a lengthy Bulletin to all teachers last week and will respond to this latest communication as soon as possible, especially given that it contains a number of important material inaccuracies and untrue and unfair characterisations which need to be corrected for the benefit of the general public and, in particular, the whole of the teaching profession, as I cannot allow them to be misled in respect of these important matters.”

He added: “We continue to work on the pay claims the teachers’ Union has made, as well as the Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) review, although the Union has withdrawn its previously agreed cooperation in respect of that work.”

“If the Union instead cooperated with that work, as it had agreed to do, it would potentially be possible to resolve matters more quickly.”

The demonstration and the teachers’ underlying concerns drew support from the GSD.

In a statement party leader Keith Azopardi said: “We are completely supportive of teachers in this. They should be respected and consulted. When promises are made they should be kept to. When promises cannot be made politicians should be clear and honest. That attitude gains respect.”

“The attitude the Government and Chief Minister has shown teachers can only break down any prospect of trust and confidence. In his latest pronouncements the Chief Minister would have teachers believe that the account being given by the Union leadership is untrue. This lacks all credibility – like when he said that Unite were dividing workers by holding a separate rally at the Piazza.”

“Teachers can rest assured we are fully behind their efforts that they should be respected and fully consulted on educational matters. There needs to be real and constructive engagement with teachers.”

But, hitting back, Mr Picardo accused the GSD Opposition of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, adding that this was “hypocritical” and highlighted the GSD’s record in education.

He said: “I am not surprised to see the GSD jump on the wagon of any demonstration or industrial unrest but I note the hypocritical position taken by Mr Azopardi and Mr Clinton in supporting any party that has a claim against the Government.”

“It shows that Mr Azopardi, Mr Clinton and the GSD talk about prudence with the public finances and cutting expenditure in the public sector only when they think they can get away with it.”

“The minute they see someone with a claim and a whistle, they get spooked, and ignore the potential costs to tax payers and the consequences on the public finances and they tell us to agree the union's claim without any full consideration of the consequences. That's the cheap politics we are getting used to from this 'new GSD'.”

“My job as Chief Minister is to ensure that I enter into agreements that work for those making claims, the teaching profession in this case, and for the tax payer in a way that is objectively justifiable. But what the GSD has done today has effectively served only to politicise the teachers’ claim and make it politically more complex.”

“Given that the GSD made almost zero investment in new schools in the time that they were in office, their politicising of this discussion between the teachers’ Union and the government is a transparent attempt to jump on the band-wagon which seeks to bring a partisan division to the equation. No one in the teaching profession will thank them for that.”

Teachers Demo  020519 { seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) from Casemates to No 6 where they presented a letter to the CM

Teachers Demo 020519 { seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) from Casemates to No 6 where they presented a letter to the CM

DEMANDS
In its letter to Mr Picardo, the union set out five resolutions collectively agreed upon by the 200 members who attended the NASUWT general meeting on April 30.

The letter sets a deadline of May 9 for the Government to accept the pay adjustment claim in full or offer a “credible counterproposal” for their consideration.

“Teachers feel that 11 months is an unreasonable length of time to have to wait for their requests to be attended to,” the letter said.

Additionally he document reads: “Teachers sincerely hope that you will engage with their union representatives in a direct, constructive, respectful and substantive manner, in line with the core socialist values which the Government professes to possess, and consider the claim and its merits without the need for PWC and without further delay.”

“There is no need for relations to deteriorate further and for teachers to feel that their Chief Minister does not believe that teachers’ salaries should be competitive and fair.”

“Teachers feel very strongly that the economic value of a teacher should be related to the social need, to the services rendered, to skill, to training, to social status and to responsibility.”

“Teachers’ salaries must be a reflection of the health of the economy and should not stagnate in comparison to other public sector workers.”

“The global cost of the claim should not be an obstacle to placing an equitable value on the basic pay of qualified teachers in Gibraltar.”

Pics by Johnny Bugeja