Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Friday, March 03, 2006

GGR supports trade union moves

Following recent Nursing Section hunger strike action headed by TGWU member Michael Netto in response to a Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA) letter, Equality Rights group GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez has expressed concern regarding the attitude and manner of the GHA in their reaction to Michael Netto in his trade union role.

Mr Alvarez stated that “for the GHA to talk of the ‘unbelievable allegation that the GHA is trying to curtail his [Mr Netto’s] freedom of expression’ and accompany this with descriptions of Mr Netto’s media interviews as “frequent rants” as well as attacking his decision to undertake a hunger strike (a well established and non-violent means of democratic protest) does little, in our view, to elicit support for the GHA’s response to a perfectly democratic action in exercise of trade union and citizenship rights.”

“Furthermore,” says Mr Alvarez, “there are two statements made by the GHA which are of grave concern: in the first place the suggestion by the GHA in their statement that there has been any sort of collusion by unnamed “sources close to the Trade Union” which have been passing on information as to internal Union affairs and in particular regarding Mr Netto’s trade union role; and in the second place, the allegation that Mr Netto ‘was trying to manufacture an industrial dispute in the GHA.’ The first of these points must be openly proven by the GHA as otherwise, it is fair comment in our view to say that the public might consider this allegation in itself to be pure manufacture. The second point seems to ignore the fact that if Mr Netto persuades any of his Union members to follow him in action this must surely have something to do with the convincing nature of his critique – or does the GHA suggest his members are incapable of thinking for themselves?”

“Meaning is extracted not just from the surface picture that words may convey but also from the context in which it is generated. Having read the original letter, I am not of the opinion that the GHA’s claim that any reasonable person acting in good faith would inevitably have given said letter the interpretation which the GHA defends and not, perhaps, have had doubts along the lines of Mr Netto’s concerns.”

It is clear that, in our view, the GHA’s condescending and unsolicited advice to Mr Netto that he ‘would do well to work towards’ the GHA’s goals wishes to ignore two important factors: Mr Netto as a trade unionist has no responsibility to work towards the GHA’s goals but, instead, has a clear responsibility to defend the interests of his Union members none of whom is beholden to any decisions made by Dr McCutcheon or Government except insofar as they may affect contractual employment obligations within the purview of democratic trade union activity. Statements on the part of the GHA describing Mr Netto’s declarations as ‘outrageous’ do little to convince the public of the merits of their case and, instead, may tend to persuade citizens who believe in freedom of expression and democracy to consider, rightly or wrongly, that Government, prior to the next elections, may itself be fabricating situations through various means to present a cosmetically attractive and strong image to the electorate especially following their failure at the latest round of tripartite talks to deliver the much promised progress.”

“In this regard and given the fact that during the period of the GSD Government, Gibraltar has fallen so far behind in social rights despite the many NGOs asking for Mr Caruana to listen to their needs, we should not be surprised if, in the run-up to the next Elections, Government sets up cosmetic consultation exercises and public meetings aimed at the Gallery to present themselves as “interested” in knowing about all those social rights issues they have during the course of all their terms of office refused to listen to or consult on. And all with one objective: to desperately look good before asking for our votes.”

Alvarez ended by saying that “Mr Netto and trade unionists in Gibraltar have my fullest support in the exercise of their rights as workers. Whilst they are more than capable of defending their own and the Union’s interests, I am more than willing to say that should they need to re-establish their hunger strike in defence of those rights I have no problem in undertaking that with them should I be asked and in defence of ordinary working people.”