Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Alvarez offers independent rights support to MOD workers

Felix Alvarez, Equality Rights Group GGR Chairman, has reiterated today his support to the Trade Unions and MOD workers in their current dispute regarding contractorisation of employment.

“Human Rights organisations in other countries often act as independent observers in cases of industrial dispute. As Chairman of such an organisation in Gibraltar, I am more than happy to assist the Unions and the MOD workforce as an independent observer or adviser whenever action in support of workers’ rights is required. Should the Unions and their workers feel that I can be of any assistance in this regard, let it be known that my services will be gladly and sincerely given. This is likely to be a long dispute but it is essential that workers stand solidly not only with each other but with their Unions in carrying forward an effective strategy. It is in this context that I offer whatever support is within my reach, knowledge and experience.”

Monday, January 22, 2007

Questions in two Parliaments

Equality Rights Group GGR has today made known that questions affecting discrimination on sexual orientation and other issues have been raised both at Westminster and at the European Parliament.

At European level, and working closely with Lib-Dem MEP Graham Watson, several questions have been tabled regarding the fact that Gibraltar continues to discriminate on the issue of the legal age of consent for sexual minority citizens and counter to judgments from the European Court of Human Rights. Questions related to the non-establishment of an Equal Opportunities Commission as required by EC law will also be raised. Whilst Government through the Equal Opportunities Ordinance 2006 has made provision for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to undertake responsibilities in this field it is a matter of contention as to whether this complies with the clearly delineated requirement under the EC’s Race Directive for the setting up of an independent body. Incorporation of such a body into an already-existing organisation such as the CAB with links to Government through the latter’s provision of premises, allocation of funds for staffing and other resources do not, in our view, comply with the EC’s requirements and we are making our views known to the European Commission on this matter.

At Westminster level, the Hon.Emily Thornberry MP has recently asked questions in the House related both to the gay age of consent and general discrimination issues. The answer afforded Ms Thornberry by the Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Geoff Hoon, are in our view highly unsatisfactory. We are contacting Ms Thornberry directly to fill in the gaps in the information that Mr Hoon has provided her with and which may, in our view, give a misleading view to UK Parliamentarians of the realities.

The Westminster questions come within a background wherein HMG has introduced safeguards against discrimination on goods and services for sexual minorities. This now means that in the UK citizens cannot be discriminated against in shops, hotels, bars or anywhere else when they act as ordinary citizens in the pursuit of goods and services. This contrasts starkly with Gibraltar’s situation where no such protections exist and discrimination at the point of rendering or obtaining goods and services may be legally denied to a person by virtue only of their sexual orientation.

In the overall picture, however, Equality Rights Group GGR welcomes the fact that questions at both UK and European levels are being asked and which deliver the results of a 7 year campaign of information and pressure on the part of this organisation. GGR continues to apply pressure where pressure is necessary and effective.

At the same time, approaches made by GGR to PDP leader Keith Azzopardi to clarify his Party’s policy towards sexual minorities in Gibraltar have so far produced nil results six weeks after our written request other than in the form of an automated e-mail advice by the PDP that it will be dealt with ‘as soon as possible’. Despite follow-up on our part requesting that the matter should now receive the PDP’s attention, we have neither received any further information nor has any effort been made by the PDP to personally contact us. For the avoidance of doubt, GGR will now be posting our request for clarification to the PDP to its officially published address by registered post. As we pointed out in our first public statement on this matter, we urge Mr Azzopardi’s clear statement of policy in relation to this issue and continue to alert sexual minority citizens, their friends, families and supporters to pay particular attention to failure by the PDP in informing the public as to their policy as it is of relevance to the choices before them at the forthcoming Elections. If a policy is indeed eventually issued by the PDP, we similarly urge citizens to pay detailed attention to any statement and to gauge what it means in real terms to their lives. Meanwhile, we again reiterate our willingness to sit round the table and amicably talk with the PDP should they so desire in the wider interest of genuine democratic change, which we understand to be the purported aim of Mr Azzopardi’s Party.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why has 'VOX" been padlocked?

In a press statement today following the recent padlocking of VOX newspaper’s premises, Equality Rights Group GGR has asked whether, as Gibraltarians, we do not care to hear the alarm bells that are ringing in our society.

“As we stand together in our fight against external threats to our way of life – whether the UK in the case of an unacceptable MOD decision, or Spain and the UK with respect to Sovereignty – let us not lose sight of what we ourselves are doing from within!”

Referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent speech on assuming the leadership of the European Union, the group stated that “Mrs Merkel has rightly identified that the core of European identity and tradition rests on tolerance and freedom. She also made clear that freedom is something which needs to be fought for day by day. VOX newspaper, in its forthright independence ‘without fear or favour’ has aimed to do just that. It is an astounding measure of our society that the sirens that should have sounded upon the closure of a newspaper’s premises in Gibraltar have, instead, been largely met by a resounding silence in Gibraltar. Where are the political parties on this important issue? And what is causing civic society to stand mute before the implications of what has happened?”

“The closure of a newspaper’s premises by the authorities is a serious threat to the freedom of all citizens in our democracy. Whilst the basis for closure of premises has been a contested question of arrears, it is in the Courts that such disputes must be settled. And it is in the Courts that the kind of drastic action which closure of a newspaper’s offices implies must be reasonably and justly weighed within the counterbalance of democratic values such as freedom of speech and the importance of open and objective criticism by any of our media. Instead, the manner and speed with which VOX’s premises were shut down give rise, in our view, to reasonable democratic doubt as to not only the standing of a free press in Gibraltar but to its independence, highlighting and underscoring the importance of the need for measures to create an independent framework guaranteeing the freedom of the press free of political interference which this organization has openly called for.”

“Politicians, civic society representatives and individual citizens who have a serious and conscientious commitment to the fundamental value of freedom of speech and democracy do themselves and Gibraltar a gross disfavour by remaining mute on a matter which, we are certain, all of us recognize as a dangerous path for Gibraltar to tread. If VOX owes money, that is a matter for the Courts. If VOX publishes untruthful or libelous material, it is again for the Courts. It is only in the most extreme of situations and only as a final recourse, where due process has not only been applied but also been seen to be applied by impartial judges, that drastic measures of the sort we have witnessed in VOX’s case should be undertaken. The question is clear: is it VOX or Gibraltarian democracy that has been padlocked?”

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

We back MOD workers and Gibraltar's pensioners

The Chairman of Equality Rights organisation GGR, Felix Alvarez, has today issued a statement giving ‘unequivocal support’ to workers following the MOD’s announcement that the in-house bid for contractorisation of services will not be awarded to the Unions.

“The reason given by the MOD is price-based,” said Mr Alvarez. “Price is by no means the only consideration in tenders – whether this one or any other. Gibraltar and its workers have provided quality and loyalty over a very long period of time. The considerations which have led to this decision by the MOD are neither apt nor reasonable. The UK has a moral and historical obligation to the Gibraltar workforce in return not only for the historic ties between Gibraltar’s workers and the MOD, and due to which British interests have been served more than well over many years and emergencies, but also in return for the use of Gibraltar and its facilities. This is our land and our workers and the price is ours to set.”

“If Britain wishes to treat Gibraltar’s workers, their services and the facilities available on our land in terms of price, then they must also be ready to understand that the price of continuing to rely on both the workforce and the facilities on the Rock is also a matter of contention for us as Gibraltarians. It is not good enough for Britain to forego its moral, political and social responsibilities to Gibraltar and Gibraltarians whilst, at the same time, dispensing with equal treatment for Gibraltar’s pensioners as a means of executing its purported sense of equality for Spanish pensioners by providing terms and conditions for settlement of the pensions dispute which are favourable to one side and not to the other. That has a name: and the name is ‘discrimination’”

“Whilst, on the face of it, the two issues may appear to be distinct, the real issue is to what extent is Her Majesty’s Government willing to sacrifice Gibraltarians over price on one of the issues, whilst clearly distributing money generously on the other in an unequal offer. Gibraltar’s workers and pensioners have my full and unequivocal support and backing not only on political grounds but also for moral and equality reasons.”