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Unite publishes ‘progressive’ election wish list

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Unite the union has published a “progressive” wish list ahead of the general election, which it said will benefit members, workers and employers in “delivering a better-paid, supported, motivated and trained workforce which will ultimately aid the economic growth of Gibraltar” if adopted.

In a comprehensive document, the union addresses various areas of concern, such as the minimum wage, maternity and paternity leave, the public sector, the Ministry of Defence workforce and training programmes.

A key area in the union’s wish list is that of a “decent” training programme for future generations of the workforce.

“The issue of training and apprenticeships is and always has been a burning concern for Unite the Union,” the union said in its document.

“For a union of our size, how our education system prepares Gibraltar's youth for future employment is of critical importance.”

Though successive Gibraltar Governments have invested in the Rock’s education system, the union said it has been “uneasy for some years” about the lack of coordinated planning between the departments of Education and Employment.

“It seems to us that there is a mismatch or misalliance between the huge economic and human investment in education and how this leads to fruitful, worthwhile employment for our youth,” the union said.

“The union does not believe that the current qualification is adequate or fit for purpose to meet the needs of Gibraltar, neither does it cater for our vulnerable members within our community.”

It is calling for a comprehensive study to be taken of the apprenticeship scheme in order to implement a “serious programme of study that will equip our future generations for the jobs market”.

“Although Unite have tended to encourage government funding mainly in construction trades, the progressive nature of our modern and constantly diversifying economy, prompts us to push to explore other fields such as the catering and tourism industry, IT and care services among others,” the union said.

“Once again these courses should also be moulded to offer equal opportunities.”

“The union, therefore, calls upon the incoming government to develop a meaningful apprenticeship framework that is fit for a 21st-century Gibraltarian employment market, delivering key skills and opportunities for young people.”

“Once a fit-for-purpose, apprenticeship qualification framework is in place, Unite the Union would want to discuss the need for contract compliance with the Government of Gibraltar, thus ensuring that Gibraltar has a sustainable workforce of its citizens and residents now and into the future.”

“To achieve the above, a completely restructured and adequate training centre needs to be in place.”

On the topic of private sector contributory pension, the union said it would like to see the creation of a committee or forum where it can also take part.

It added that this forum would enable the “close monitoring statistics updates for companies that have introduced or are about to introduce a pension scheme”.

The union also called for a health and safety policies and forum to police and enforce throughout the private sector, particularly the construction industry, and a complete restructure of the Health and Safety Inspectorate.

The union called for enhanced employment laws for those working in the private sector, to provide better terms and conditions for employment, improvement to sick leave entitlement and increasing redundancy compensation from 52 weeks to 78 weeks.

Furthermore, the union said it will pursue for the 28 weeks maximum entitlement by law in case of an injury at work not to be accounted for as part of the employee's annual sick leave entitlement.

Unite proposed that the incumbent Government updates the laws for maternity and paternity leave for any couple “irrespective of sex”.

It calls for statutory maternity leave be for 52 weeks, with ordinary maternity leave for the first 26 weeks and then additional maternity leave for a further 26 weeks.

At present the law grants 14 weeks of maternity leave.

The union is also calling for shared parental leave for partners in circumstances where an individual is pregnant, is using a surrogate to have a baby, adopting or fostering a child, or has suffered a still birth.

The union in the past has been vocal about increasing the minimum wage, adding that there are still far too many low-paid workers struggling to survive on a minimum wage.

It is calling on the next administration to increase the minimum wage to over £9 an hour, and to set up a team to develop a Gibraltar Living Wage.

“After a year of lobbying, Unite has had a breakthrough in the form of a commitment by the current government to engage with all Unions by way of an Employer - Trade Unions Public Sector Pay Negotiating forum,” the union said.

“Unite the Union urges for the incoming government to continue with this initiative for future pay negotiations pre-budget.”

It also requests for a modernisation of the public sector, including the “harmonisation” of public sector worker, “breaking away” with two sets of workers within the service.

The union said this would do away with “restrictions” faced by industrials when vacancies are advertised, and ask that applicants be considered based on their skills.

It also calls for a stop to the practice of re-engaging public sector workers into service as consultants “unless the role is of a specialised nature and this to be agreed only for a short period of time”.

The union said vacant positions should be advertised immediately, adding that this would serve to “rejuvenate the service” and offer a career to future generations, and succession planning should be put in place before officials retire.

Looking at the public sector, the union said it is imperative that a full consultation is held with the union before any automation of systems.

The union said it is “totally opposed to any form of contractorization or privatisation” of public services, and said it will be seeking commitments from the future government on this.

It is also calling for the introduction of the Widows and Orphan Scheme, in the event that a former Government employee receiving a civil service pension dies.

Unite said it seeks to achieve a further commitment from all political parties contesting the election where the Ministry of Defence and main contractor workforces will retain both job security and the ability to rely on the "safety net" provided by the Global Agreement should there be a compulsory redundancy situation.

Unite is also seeking ongoing political support for the union's campaign to end austerity pay in the Ministry of Defence driven by UK austerity policies.

In the health sector, the union is calling for the proper use of fixed term and agency workers, which would provide appropriate staffing levels and continuity of care for patients across the GHA, the Care Agency and the ERS.

Unite said it will continue to police for the reduction of the use of zero-hour contracts engaged by private healthcare agencies.

The union said it will address the incoming government to ensure that any worker whose annual assessable income does not exceed £11,450 is not subject to tax.

It added that due to a 25% loss of purchasing power as a result of the cost of living crisis, it calls for the threshold for low-income tax allowance be raised to £21,000 from the current £19,500.

It also called for the unemployment benefit claim period be modified in line with that in the UK, so that unemployed people can be entitled to unemployment benefit for up to 182 days.

On the issue of supported employment for people with disabilities, Unite is calling for those within the scheme be afforded the opportunity to obtain a permanent and pensionable position.

“The sustainability of the cost of the public sector as a whole depends on increasing the government's revenue,” the union said as it commented on the “inappropriate” use of labour.

“Saying this, we are aware that much of the growth in Gibraltar's labour market has been on incomes at Gibraltar's minimum wage or close to it.”

Unite is urging the future Government to review this situation and “do away with the exploitation of young workers”.

The union added that while the agenda of the union and the incoming government will be much wider than the issues identified within this document, it believes that the points raised are “progressive”.

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