As negotiations to determine future cross-border arrangements between Gibraltar and Spain continue under the necessary secrecy associated with diplomatic exchanges, the University of Cádiz organised a seminar to discuss possible eventualities specifically dealing with cross-frontier workers.
The seminar was held on the 2nd of July at the Palacio de Congresos in La Línea, with others in attendance online.
Under the title “Cross-frontier workers post-Brexit”, Professor Inmaculada Gonzalez Garcia of the Faculty of International Law and International Relations explained that the seminar was part of a wider investigation being carried out by the university under the auspices of the Jean Monnet programme.
The seminar was chaired by the well-known lawyer and one-time Mayor of La Línea, Juan Carmona de Cozar.
Carmona became Mayor of La Línea at the young age of 27 and is regarded as one of the intellectual powerhouses in the Campo de Gibraltar as well as a man of action, having once swam from La Línea to Gibraltar during the Francoist siege.
He introduced the first speaker, the current Mayor of La Línea, José Juan Franco Rodríguez of the localist La Línea 100×100 party.
Juan Franco exuded energy and enthusiasm as he explained that although the prospects of a hard Brexit would take a very heavy toll on his city and the many workers employed in Gibraltar, he would spare no effort to try to ensure that adverse consequences were mitigated as much as possible.
He said that since the referendum of the 23rd of June 2016, when the UK voted to secede from the EU, damage had already been caused, and he referred to the departure from Gibraltar of major companies such as Bet365.
At one time, Bet365 hoped to move part of its operation to La Línea in order to maintain close proximity to Gibraltar and for the convenience of its workforce, but national authorities had preferred to favour Ceuta, and in the end Bet365 moved to Malta.
Permeating the Mayor’s robust intervention was the recurring theme repeated over many years by his predecessors including Mr. Carmona that La Línea seemed always to be side-lined by the reginal and national authorities.
He said that no sensible discussion on worker’s rights was possible if a prosperous economy was not guaranteed.
He reflected on the impact that Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic had already had on the economy of Gibraltar.
Although the Government of Gibraltar had acted swiftly to assist local businesses during the initial lockdown, the recurring expenditure in the public sector meant that the government was now trying to extract as much as possible from a debilitated private sector with a real risk of a domino effect if the businesses that had suffered the worst of the lockdowns were not given time and space in which to recover.
He wondered whether the Gibraltar workers unions might have a conflict of intertest when representing both private and public sector workers at a time when their interests seemed to be at loggerheads.
The Gibraltarian economy, he said, is multifaceted and whilst parts of it had suffered tremendously in the past year, others had done well.
He said that the fact that there had been a 37% increase in job vacancies during this period suggested that other parts of the economy in Gibraltar were still being carried by a momentum which we could all do well to ensure does not stop because it provides hope for a resurgence of economic activity in the near future.
Charles Gomez announced that there were several major projects at an advanced stage of development to underscore the intrinsic robustness of the Gibraltarian economy.
Mr. Franco confirmed that there were also projects in the pipeline in La Línea and Mr. Carmona alluded to the underlying strength of the Gibraltarian economic base.
Mr. Gomez warned however that this situation had to be nurtured and that this was potentially the last chance for the region to achieve the prosperity that rightly belonged to it.
He said that there was a world outside the Campo de Gibraltar and many potential competitors, including Morocco, who are not standing still, and that the hope was that national leaders would understand this during their deliberations.
The Secretary General of the Spanish workers union “Comisiones Obreras” (CCOO), in the Campo de Gibraltar, Manuel Triano followed.
He said that he agreed that for the economy to flourish, there had to be a sense of certainty and security in cross-frontier activity.
He lamented the fact that many cross-frontier workers were caught in a predicament because although salaries in Gibraltar were higher than those in Spain, pension rights in Gibraltar were substantially lower than the Spanish equivalents.
He said that this had to be dealt with without more delay.
Councillor Juan Antonio Valle Lima of the Town Council of La Línea, who works in Gibraltar, also highlighted the very low pensions which Spanish workers were entitled to in Gibraltar which could be as little as £400 per month.
He said that as many cross-frontier workers approached retirement age, the concern as to their future security was becoming greater among a growing number of people.
Michael Netto, a Gibraltarian retired official of Unite the Union in Gibraltar, provided a perspective from his many years in the Gibraltar Health Authority which is a substantial employer of Spaniards at all levels: Doctors, nurses, and other staff.
He gave a personal testimony as to how uncertainties in border transit had caused difficulties over many years and frustrated attempts to unleash the economic activity in the region.
Finally, La Línea businessman and business representative Lorenzo Pérez Periañez explained how there was a real potential for cooperation to at least safeguard the standard of living of people on both sides of the frontier and that it would be a pity if the opportunity were to once again be missed.
In summary, all were agreed that whilst there had to be an “equilibrium” on both sides of the border, economy activity had to be protected from political posturing or, as Mr. Triano said, “going back to the tiresome habit of flag waving”.
The Mayor of La Línea added that “equilibrium” should mean raising up La Línea and not bringing down Gibraltar.