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IT workers protest at planned changes, but Govt slams ‘irresponsible’ industrial action

GGCA Protest110419 { seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) outside Parliament Lobby over the undermining of the IT Dept

The white-collar union GGCA yesterday vowed to continue with industrial action unless the Gibraltar Government rethought its plans for a Digital Services Authority, even as the government slammed a walkout of staff at the Information Technology and Logistics Department [ITLD] as “irresponsible” and “unnecessary”.

As workers gathered outside the Gibraltar Parliament as MPs arrived for an afternoon session, the GGCA demanded that the Government sit down and engage with them on the issue.

According to the union the contents of a circular sent on April 9 to all heads of department were met with “dismay” by its ITLD membership because it “redefines their roles and responsibilities”.

The union claims that a ministerial plan is afoot to amalgamate all IT Government services under a new roof of appointed managers, believed to be composed of external contractors and civil servants who lack the relevant IT experience offered by ITLD since 1998.

It therefore reopened the long-running dispute with the Government on the issue and called the action with 24 hours notice.

At the Piazza yesterday, union members held placards which read “undermined and ignored”, “No amalgamation without consultation” and “Being responsible led us here”.

Speaking to the Chronicle, GGCA President Wendy Cumming said: “We’ve had absolutely no information, no consultation whatsoever on that issue and we’re very, very upset because you don’t create an authority without negotiating with the union that has rights over those sectors.”

But this is at odds with a Government statement which claimed that Ms Cumming was informed in writing, before the walk out, that the composition of the Authority included the Head of ITLD and his Deputy as members of the Committee.

Ms Cumming was also informed in writing, before the walk out, of the Chief Minister’s commitment to the staff at ITLD; namely, that they would be fully consulted before any change to the structure of ITLD was introduced and would be fully respected, the Government said.

According to the Government, both the Digital Design Authority and the Digital Services Authority are purely operational committees designed to improve the services and design of Government services to deliver value for money to the tax payer.

“It is important to point out that this process has been fully supported by ITLD staff, including the Head and the Deputy Head,” the government said.

“It is equally important to highlight that these committees do not, as the GGCA wrongly suggest, involve any change whatsoever to the staff or composition of ITLD. On the contrary, as has already been stated above, ITLD are fully involved in both these committees and the GGCA is fully aware of this.”

Minister for Commerce Albert Isola said: “I find this behaviour quite extraordinary at a time of such uncertainty.”

“The staff at ITLD should rest assured that, in accordance with the Chief Minister’s commitment to them, we will not make any change to their Department whatsoever, without fully consulting them and their Union.”

“The GGCA’s walk out on 24 hours’ notice, without even having a meeting to discuss these issues, is totally irresponsible and bad for Gibraltar, especially at this challenging time. They should be more responsible for the sake of Gibraltar’s collective interests, stability and prosperity.”

REACTION

The action drew political reaction yesterday as Opposition party Together Gibraltar which expressed “serious reservations” about the events that culminated in the industrial action.

In a statement the party said: “The walkout is the end product of longstanding unrest and disenchantment in the Department since technical work that would ordinarily have always been carried out by the ITLD, has been repeatedly outsourced to third-party non-Governmental parties, it seems, without any meaningful consultation with the Department itself.”

“This failure to meaningfully consult with staff is affecting all areas of the civil service: diminishing morale but also gravely hampering Gibraltar’s public services.”

“Slowly, but surely, attempts appear to have been made to deliberately undermine (perhaps ultimately with a view to completely replacing) Government’s own ITLD via the creation of a new Digital Services Authority, which serves all the same functions as the ITLD in all but name, but at a considerably higher (and we would say, unjustifiable) price tag.”

Together Gibraltar has asked the Government for a comprehensive and transparent statement of what has occurred in the outsourcing of this and other information technology contracts, and an explanation as to why it is that the ITLD is aggrieved to the point that it has been left with no option but to stage a walk out.