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Unite voices ‘grave concern’ over freeze on public sector recruitment

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

Unite the Union expressed “grave concern” that there will be no recruiting to fill vacancies in the public sector this year, describing the budget as “a mixed bag” of welcome news and worrying announcements.

The union was reacting after Mr Picardo told Parliament that the £50m budget deficit forecast for 2020/21 means “…there is no funding provided for vacant posts to be filled in this financial year.”

Additionally, the Chief Minister signalled the possibility of opening agreed early exit packages in consultation with the unions.

Mr Picardo batted away suggestions that the public sector was operating under complement, telling Parliament that the number of civil servants had increased by about 25% since 2011 from 1,584 to 2,040 jobs, while the number of people employed in agencies excluding the GHA had increased 23% from 730 to 890.

In the GHA, the complement of direct employees had increased 28% from 715.5 to 914.5 posts.

“I will be asking the Civil Service Union and Unite to review these figures with me and, if appropriate, to consider with us the possibility of the introduction of agreed early exit packages,” the Chief Minister said.

“These would, of course, only be agreeable if the number of posts could be reduced going forward.”

For the union, that represented bad news, even while it acknowledged positive budget announcements around the increase in the minimum wage, plus other allowances and the introduction into law of trade union recognition.

But the position on vacancies and the call for dialogue with the unions on early exit packages “off-sets that positivity”.

“The budget is very much a mixed bag with positive announcements on increases to key allowances and also the maintenance of the increase to the minimum wage,” the union said in a statement. 

“The positive trajectory of the minimum wage and the next two programmed inflationary increases should feed into work around the establishment of the Gibraltar Living Wage.”

“The commitment for trade recognition to finally enter into law is a significant and welcome development for industrial relations and collective bargaining in the private sector.”

Unite said it recognised the “acute impact” of Covid on government revenues.

But it pointed to “repeated commitments” that Covid “would not be repaid with austerity”. 

“Reducing headcount through not filling vacancies and considering the introduction of early exit packages represents cuts to the public sector,” Unite said. 

“Not filling vacancies and then looking to reduce headcount further will impact services and service users.”

“In addition, workers delivering those frontline services will be further stretched and placed under pressure if job vacancies remain unfilled.”

“Put simply not filling vacancies and seeking to exit further workers from the sector is a false economy.” 

Conversely though, Unite acknowledged that tax allowances to companies recruiting new staff and investing in training could provide a boost for private sector employment following a decrease of over 1,200 private sector jobs.

“Employers and employees in the sector need this type of targeted assistance to flourish as the economy repairs in the wake of Covid,” Unite said.

But again, there was a flip side to the budget measures.

“This is the second year of no ‘cost of living’ increase and we have seen increases to social security contributions and voluntary contributions to pensions which have a disproportionate impact on the lower earners and particularly those working in the private sector.”

“Unite have made representations to No.6 in respect of these increases and will be pursuing further dialogue with Government in respect of the budget announcements, as well as seeking the views and feedback of all our members across both the private and public sectors.”

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