May Day Message of Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi

By Keith Azopardi, GSD

This has been an unprecedented last 15 months. To see the world gripped in a public health pandemic of an unprecedented nature in modern times has been surreal and a destabilising shock to what we thought of normality. There have been millions of lives lost and the toll in mental well-being or economic terms is still incalculable. As we reflect on our own local panorama we mourn 94 of our citizens lost to COVID and thank our essential workers for their key role in keeping us safe during the worst phases of the public health emergency.

Economically COVID has shaken world economies. We needed to pass an emergency budget last year to buy Gibraltar time to get us through the crisis. In the last 12 months we have seen money pumped into the economy just to keep things going and to stabilise business and jobs. The effects of the COVID shock on the world economy will still be felt in the next 12 months. In practice Gibraltar is running at a loss because of the effects COVID has had on trade and tourism. That experience is no different to most other countries in the world who are having to borrow to get out of the crisis. What is different here is that we already had a staggeringly high level of direct and indirect debt because of the Government’s reckless borrowing over the last 10 years which is a chain round our neck and exposes Gibraltar more.

Additionally we still have the uncertainty of not knowing what our post Brexit future is. We still do not have the benefit of a binding Treaty on a future relationship with the EU unlike the UK. In that the Government has so far failed to deliver certainty which is also detrimentally affecting our economy. No one can plan if people do not know whether the economic model we have had for the last 50 years will change. There is much talk about whether there will be a customs union or not but very little discussion of the economic impact of that on businesses or jobs. The Government are leading us into a period of uncertainty with little sense of direction.

We are committed to protecting and enhancing workers’ rights and ensuring jobs are available for future generations. We need to provide adequate skills, training and retraining so that our community has access to job opportunities in our market place. The deep challenges we face are not an obstacle to ensuring dignified working conditions, secure employment, better pension provision, trade union recognition, a living wage or an end to the unscrupulous use of zero contracts. We need to modify our pre-pandemic perception of what was normal and change business models to assimilate to a new economy. If we do that intelligently we will stabilise and grow our economy with more jobs being created and better conditions. Certainty will mean that employers and employees can plan. We also need to control the waste, abuse and lack of control in certain public contracts because reckless spending is a waste of your money – taxpayers’ money – and constrains a future ability to improve working conditions or create jobs because there is less money available in the economy. These have been tough and uncertain times and they are far from over but we will be there as your voice every step of the way.