Joe Garcia
'The Civil Service is between a rock and a hard place,' says WENDY CUMMING,  President of the GGCA

You are not new to trade unionism, but of late you seem to have propelled yourself to a higher plane. What exactly is your background?

I have a legal background, as I was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2001. I started my career in private practice, but joined the civil service at the Crown Council grade in 2005. I became President of the GGCA in 2012 and continue in this role to date. 

I’m not entirely sure if I have propelled myself to a higher plane recently – I feel it is more a question of growing unrest within the GGCA membership of late, which has necessitated more media coverage. It is the GGCA policy that, in most cases, it is in the interests of the membership to explain and communicate to the general public the issues underpinning any dispute before any industrial action is taken and this is a function of my role that I take very seriously.

The unions have just held May Day without direct party political involvement - do you see this as a permanent feature or can you see a situation developing in future May Days to take strands of the past?

I was very proud to take to the stage this year in the company of Unite and Gibraltar NASUWT. I very much hope that this format will remain for all future May Days, as I think unity and solidarity is the cornerstone of the trade union movement. Indeed, all three unions cooperating and working together can only result in a consolidation and furtherance of workers’ rights, which will be of benefit to our entire community.

Is it fair to say that unions are entering a period of greater militancy?

I think that it is fair to say that the issues we are facing at present require greater militancy. In my view, the three main factors that we are facing, which are the underlying factors for much of the recent industrial action are; privatisation, non-consultation and the unfair distribution of wealth. However, of these three, perhaps the worst one is non-consultation because, where there is no negotiation and no proper engagement with trade unions, matters which can be resolved through dialogue and compromise are unnecessarily escalated to a declaration of dispute and industrial action. I cite as an example the case of the Information Technology and Logistics Department, where the GGCA has been requesting consultation for more than two years. If there had been proper engagement with the GGCA two years ago as requested, it’s entirely possible that the conflict could have been completely avoided.

Are relations with Government as bad as projected - and how widespread is this?

As regards GGCA, relations with Government proceed as usual, in the same way that they have done for the past seven years. It is essential to work hand in hand with the Government wherever possible, but also to take action against the Government where necessary. This is the principal that we have maintained throughout my presidency, and therefore it is to be expected that there shall be ups and downs, as with any other relationship. It is our belief that relations with the Government need to be civilised, respectful and at arms length to ensure the integrity of the Executive Committee at all times and to safeguard our members against a union leadership that has ‘sold out’ the interests of its membership to maintain a close relationship with the Government.

Not that long ago you accused economics minister Sir Joe Bossano of breaking the civil service. On what do you base such accusation?

The basis for the accusation was laid out clearly in lengthy article that I sent to the press on the 14th December 2018 entitled “Sir Joe Bossano is Breaking the Civil Service”. To summarise the points made in the article, this assertion is based on the fact that, following great efforts to obtain feedback from the civil service workforce on possible efficiencies, Sir Joe Bossano did not show interest in meeting with the GGCA to collate this information and implement the proposals from the workforce. This leads us to suspect that the ‘public efficiencies’ that he constantly refers to are merely a smokescreen to achieve privatisation by stealth (as evidenced by all the supply workers prevalent within the civil service at that time.) The assertion is also based on the practice of recruiting individuals from the private sector at elevated salaries, rather than training in-house and undertaking proper succession planning. Amongst other issues, the article also makes reference to the practice of re-engaging retired senior civil servants as consultants (again at a high cost to the tax payer), instead of implementing proper succession planning and ensuring that officers who retire can be replaced by existing civil servants, who have been developed and therefore have the relevant skill sets for those roles.

I recently put it to the chief minister Mr Fabian Picardo that an increasing number of people were complaining about what they described as poor service to the public in different Government departments and he replied that the civil service included some excellent professionals but there are some who let the side down. If this is so, what is the answer?

Of course it is the case that within the civil service, there are some officers who have an extremely high work ethic, and some officers who have an extremely low work ethic, with the remainder falling within the two extremities of this spectrum. However, this is true of the civil service, as well as every other organisation in the world. It is simply human nature. It is not true to say that all civil servants are lazy and ineffective and that all private sector workers are hardworking and efficient – this is an urban myth and totally out of touch with the reality of the civil service. In fact, it is particularly unfair that these comments are made in a vacuum, as the public is not aware of the deficiencies in training and in resources that are prevalent within the civil service. It is also unfair that, when the workforce offer suggestions and solutions to the GGCA to create better efficiencies and ways to improve the services offered to the community, that Sir Joe Bossano should not give this feedback the consideration it deserves. So the civil service is between a rock and a hard place – criticised for poor service, but ignored when it makes suggestions and proposals for improvements to service.

In addition, following our public efficiencies exercise, the GGCA has long advocated that efficiencies and improvements are clearly required between departments, rather than within departments. This is a very easy and cost -neutral exercise that can be achieved by regular Heads of Department meetings, chaired by the Chief Secretary, where resources can be pooled and communications between departments improved, as more cohesive organisation will inevitably provide a better service. This suggestion has fallen on deaf ears.

And what about the upsurge of socialism in Spain, will this improve relations over Gibraltar?

I was very glad (along with most of Gibraltar) to learn of the success of the PSOE in the recent general election. Clearly, the most clear and present danger to Gibraltar in relation to Spain is the emergence of the far right and Vox’s increasing popularity. Having said that, some of the PSOE’s machinations as regards Brexit have run counter to Gibraltar’s interests, so even though a left wing government is the best possible option for Gibraltar, it is my personal view that we cannot be certain of improved relations with Spain whilst the Brexit negotiations are ongoing. Hence, the important work of the Cross Frontier Group in highlighting the interests of Gibraltar and the Campo area in Spain, the UK and in the EU.