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Unite backs Community Care demo, repeats call for consultation

Photos by Johnny Bugeja

Unite the Union yesterday repeated its call for a full consultation on changes to Community Care, insisting that last year’s freeze on new entrants to the Community Officer scheme had been introduced “unfairly” and without sufficient forewarning.

The union set out its position on Community Care and on proposals to equalise the pension age for men and women on the eve of a protest this morning by the Community Care Action Group.

The group has been collecting signatures for a petition that will be handed to the Governor, the Gibraltar Government and Community Care trustees during the demonstration.

Unite said it would support the protest on the basis that it agrees with some of the elements of the group’s campaign, including consultation on Community Care changes and the equalisation of the pension age.

It added, however, that there are “a number of challenging factors to consider and debate” as part of any consultation that could influence potential future changes to the scheme.

“The issue of community care and specifically the Community Officer Allowance has remained a controversial issue since February 2020, one that is keenly felt by our membership,” said Stuart Davies, Unite’s National Officer for Gibraltar.

“The union executive during a meeting today has reaffirmed and updated its position in respect of community care, the call for a full consultation, a moratorium on the changes imposed, some detail on what the consultation should focus on and the repeated call for the long-standing aim for the equalisation of the pension age for men and women at 60.”

“Whatever the views of our members on community care, the consistent feedback and view expressed is the unfairness of the manner in which the changes were announced and imposed in February 2020.”

“The Community Officer role and therefore the Community Officer Allowance had developed over the years to the system that was in place pre-17th February 2020.”

“As the union has repeatedly stated if there are genuine structural issues with the role and the allowance, these should have been consulted on in full to lend a sense of fairness to the process.”

Unite’s Gibraltar Executive met on Wednesday and set out formal demands including:

• A full consultation on the changes to community care and specifically the Community Officer Allowance following the unilateral changes implemented in February 2020;

• A moratorium on the February 17, 2020, changes which would require a reinstatement of allowances to enable the full consultation to take place;

• The full consultation with all relevant stakeholders, trade unions, Community Officers past, present and future, plus charities and voluntary organisations to consider and seek views on key issues pertaining to community care including the number of hours of engagement of Community Officers per month and the eligibility and qualifying criteria for Community Officers/Community Officer Allowance;

• For the consultation to have a focus on a future and sustainable Gibraltar Community Care Limited given that the principal role of the charity is the assistance provided via the Household Cost Allowance, thus ensuring that those most in need continue to receive appropriate levels of support;

• The ultimate aim of equalisation of the pension age for men and women at 60 which would resolve the issue of the Community Officer Allowance.

But beyond the issue of Community Care, the union said the key matter going forward was the imminent debate and consultation on the equalisation of the pension age for men and women to 60.

“However, whatever the outcome of that debate this will not be delivered overnight,” Mr Davies said.

“Therefore the immediate consideration is to establish a scheme that acts as a bridge between now and the equalisation of pension age.”

“It is also important that Gibraltar Community Care Limited remains sustainable to deliver key support to those in need in Gibraltar and also in providing the critical Household Cost Allowance.”

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