Black and white

I’m one of life’s down and outs. Or that’s what it feels like sometimes.

Partner went to the job centre today to look at the board for craft trades. When he walked in, the security guy looked at him, didn’t recognise him, so Partner explained what he wanted.

Security guy started to give directions and explain the procedure, but Partner said thanks, he knew where to go.

When I walk in, the security guards know me, because I’m a regular. Great. Unemployed and have been all year in spite of a few interviews so I’m a hopeless case at the job centre.

Today there were no jobs available in the craft section, plenty of gaming jobs, and some managerial ones.

Over on Roughseas, The Pink Agendist asked about the employment situation in Gib, following my comment that my partner was now out of work.

Is the work market in Gib bad? I keep hearing it’s the only hope of people on the other side of the border. That Gib keeps the other side going etc. etc.

The employment situation in Gib is so complex that it merits its own post. With the exception of the border closure under Franco in 1969 to the early eighties, there has always been cross-border employment.

A few facts, not necessarily related:

  • When the border was closed, work was carried out by Gibraltarians, Moroccans, and some British firms.
  • With the decline of the MOD presence in Gibraltar, there was a marked decrease in opportunity for Gibraltarians to learn craft and technical trades, leaving the local population without sufficient skilled tradespeople eg bricklayers, plasterers, carpenters, decorators, mechanics, electricians, plumbers etc.
  • The shrinkage of the former directly-employed workers in government departments led to the same syndrome.
  • In recent years, the government has started to encourage apprenticeships in a variety of trades to make up for this deficit.
  • When the border was closed, wages in Gibraltar were higher. People working in Gibraltar could command a decent rate for their work without the influx of cheap migrant workers to depress wages.
  • The cost of living in Gibraltar is basically higher than Spain, although some things are cheaper. Private property is not cheap. Government housing is cheap. Wages are low compared to the UK, but high compared to Spain. Why would a Spaniard not work in Gibraltar? People speak Spanish, the money is good, and there are no jobs in La Linea and the surrounding area – the Campo de Gibraltar – anyway.

Leaving aside construction, which is one of the biggest areas for cross-border work, how about office staff? Well, Spaniards who speak reasonable English can also get jobs. We met a Spanish woman working for a financial company, who was being funded for evening classes in Spain in accountancy.

Or cleaning? With the exception of a couple of British people who have their own business here who we know, most cleaners in Gibraltar are Spanish. Naturally those who work in private properties are on the black.

Gaming industry? Ah the Eastern Europeans have the edge here. Needless to state, most of those live in Spain too. Gaming is the province of young hungry people who don’t mind doing night shifts, immoral work, and are happy to wear black clothes to work and spend all their breaks outside the building, smoking.

Shop work? Yup, you’ll find Spaniards working in shops, and Eastern Europeans too. The EEs have the advantage, they can do English and Spanish (and Rumanian, Finnish, Estonian, Polish, Russian etc although not that they need all those if they speak English and Spanish.)

Bar work? Plenty of work for Spaniards there too – and again, lots of EEs.

So is Gib the only hope of employment for people in Spain? For many of them, yes.

And how does that affect people in Gibraltar?

Not well.

The new government (socialist/liberal alliance), which came into power in December 2011, has taken a strong stance on employment trying to ensure that jobs are found for Gibraltarians. Well, in theory.

Jobs need to be advertised at the job centre, and in January and for the next few months, there was a plethora of vacancies. Where had they all come from I wondered? As I applied for some and heard nothing, applied for others and received interviews, and weeks later, and I mean weeks, going into months, eventually got the rejection letters.

I saw one job re-advertised. It brought a wry smile to my face as the letter I had received said the person they had chosen had significant experience in the field and could hit the ground running, or some such jargon. Must have fallen on his face. Or left the field.

One job was a definite set-up. I knew it before I applied, but thought it was worth a go. If nothing else, it was my area of expertise and something I knew I could do. Sadly, a job for the boys. [No, not a sexist mistake on my part, the interview panel was three men, when I asked who the panel members would be beforehand, I was told that information was not available, and I would bet serious money that job went to one of the boys.]

I know, because I have been on the receiving end of that sort of set-up, where the job was mine and I still had to go through the performance, as did a few other candidates who were not (hopefully) going to get the job. Years after that, it was still happening, when a colleague had to apply for a job that had been deliberately designed for her skills and experience.

Whatever happened to basic promotion? Why waste people’s time in the so-called attempt to demonstrate equal opportunities of employment? Might as well just promote or appoint someone in the first place.

But the office job situation is nothing like the black economy that operates in parallel with the legitimate one.

I’m not even talking cigarette or drug smuggling here. Just plain old working on the black, not paying tax or social security and taking cash money as a full-time living.

While the cleaners may work part-time, the construction workers are working 40 hours a week, and some of them have been working here illegally for 20 years or more.

And how many times have our efficient government employees felt their collars? None.

Some of them work ‘for themselves’. This means they are not registered in Gibraltar, have no public liability or personal insurance, and contribute JSN to the system. No, don’t be silly, of course they are not registered in Spain. Most of them don’t even speak Spanish so how on earth would they negotiate the mire to register a business in Spain?

Others ‘sub-contract’ also on the black. Same applies again.

What is the point of registering a business in Gibraltar at Companies House, registering with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Employment Training Board, and the Tax Office every year? which are all legal requirements here for a construction business, when you are competing with scab labour like that.

The going rate for these Brits who live the good life in Spain, is between £80 and £120 day. Whatever we get in our business, we have to deduct tax and social, and take into account costs such as registration fees, insurance, office costs, business premises, bank charges, and people still gripe about the price.

Or what about a Spaniard we know? Nice guy, works for £100 a day. It’s a día completo. So however many hours he works he charges £100. Half a day, £100. A full day, £100. I have no argument with his pricing, because I don’t agree with the concept of an hourly or daily rate so if that’s what he chooses to charge, up to him. I do have a problem with the fact that he is not registered in Gibraltar.

Meanwhile, the government promises jobs for Gibraltarians, and someone we know, can’t get a job as a labourer. Another can’t get a job as a welder and he is extremely good at his job.

The change in rules now means that if a cross-border worker (of whatever nationality) is laid-off, it is going to be harder to re-employ them. If it is even possible.

So then what happens? Lay off the Gibbos first, because they can always be re-employed. Hang onto the Spaniards because once they are gone, you can’t get them back. Great policy there.

Or maybe you can get the Spaniards back. You can call them a specialist when you fill out the forms for the ETB. And say there is no local labour to fill that post.

And what does laying off cross-border workers do? It drives down the price even more as they all flock across the frontier to work for themselves on the black. They’ll work for less than £80 a day, they will work for £40 a day. Notices stuck around lamposts with Spanish mobile numbers offering everything under the sun.

This, explains why we struggle to make a living with a legitimate business.

Unlike a couple of chancers Partner saw today. Neither of them are skilled, apart from in chancing. They both live in Spain.

He knows them both so stopped to speak. They were looking at pricing up painting the outside of a building that needed scaffolding. ‘That’s rough, it will need two pack (sealer plus paint),’ said Partner helpfully.

‘What’s that?’ said these two enterpreneurs, experienced in the painting and decorating industry. As if. Partner shrugged. And wondered how the hell they got to quote for jobs.

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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26 Responses to Black and white

  1. Vicky says:

    I’ve never really understood the workings of the EU and why the cost of living should vary so much. Surely if we are supposed to be ‘as one’, there shouldn’t be such big differences in wages etc.
    With the lack of country bondaries, it is human nature that if you can get more money for doing the same job, you will go for the higher paid one.
    If wages were equal for jobs and experience, there wouldn’t be a mass exodus to the better paid areas, which I would have thought would help the economy of every country.
    Or is my simple brain looking at it in the wrong light?


    • I think that you have highlighted the fundamental flaw in the concept of the ‘single currency’!


    • V, at one point, I thought the euro was actually levelling everything out, but that soon changed.

      But it can’t be the same because the economics and the systems of every individual country are totally different. You can’t compare like with like in different countries because they just don’t work the same way.

      So for example, Spanish painters that A has worked with have no qualifications. Simple. Nada. Years of slopping paint on with a brush, but no training or education. No knowledge of chemistry, different applications, preparation blah blah. He asked one of the Spaniards about training, and he said, maybe, in the north of Spain, but this Spaniard knew no skilled/trained Spanish painters. So that’s where it ends up being apples and pears.

      And in terms of getting higher money for the same job elsewhere – the point is, Spaniards in La Linea (and further afield), can’t get any work there. At all. Hence needing to come to Gib. Hence the black economy from cross-border workers etc etc.


      • Vicky says:

        I was never in favour of the euro, I feel for those countries concerned it took away a lot of their identity, and how did they expect countries, which as you say have such different economics and systems, could become one for trading purposes.
        The Gib/Spain example is typical of what confuses me. You mentioned the wages being higher in Gib than Spain, so does that mean if two people with the same qualifications, doing identical jobs would get more euros per hour in Gib?

        As for tradesmen, by calling in a professional, you may have to pay more, but at least the job will be done properly. As the saying goes, ‘you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’


        • What it actually means V, is that two people with no qualifications get the same rate in Gib. Or one with a qual, and one without, still get the same rate. In fact, on his last day, A was chatting to a labourer who was getting the craft trade rate. Uh? why? who knows.

          But all the people working in Gib, can not get jobs in Spain. That is the big issue. Not whether or not they get less or more, they can’t even get work there. It actually is quite complex. If there was no Gib, it would be simple, they would all be out of work, like they are further up the coast in my pueblo. Simple.

          People want to pay peanuts these days. Believe me.


  2. Interesting article. I am going to nominate this as the blog where I learned something today! So glad that I don’t have to go to work if I don’t want to.


    • Phew! I was worried you were going to nominate me for an award there! Thanks though, in fact a lot of it is, I suppose, anecdotal. Which you could also refer to as a primary source, bit of a difference in terminology there, interestingly.

      I read a lot about how people think they can just flit to Gib/Spain, live in the sun, and pick up a crust, and the situation here is not quite so simple. Some people can, especially if they are young, and just looking to live for today. But the disparity in housing costs also plays a bit part in the Gib (un)employment factor. I figured writing about employment was complicated enough without adding in housing though!


  3. free penny press says:

    Makes me glad to live in a larger city in the event my job goes away I do have more of a chance of gaining employment.. Hoping things look up for you and Partner..


    • I was used to travelling for new and better jobs in the UK. Bit difficult in a place as small as Gib a few miles square and with only 30,000 people. Thanks L. It was really a general post about the employment situation here, with some of it based on personal experience.


      • free penny press says:

        I’m taking a chance too when I move to New orleans as it’s smallish in size.. My current job is transferring but if something should happen and it goes away, yes, I’ll be a bit of a jam… Head up Miss Gib.. I see good things on the horizon.. i really do!


        • Didn’t realise NOLA was so small ie 150,000 plus? That is not big. Although five times bigger than us! But yes, the smaller the place, the more difficult to find work. We’re in the ‘enjoy each day as it comes philosophy mode’ right now, thanks for your cheering words. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?


  4. EllaDee says:

    Very interesting. I remember Job Boards from the ’80’s living in the country. To find a job it was there and the local paper. At least the security guards are inviting you to have lunch with them ;)I have no experience in the area of craft trades but what springs to mind is earthmoving/civil in Australia. It is so unpoliced, anyone can buy a bobcat & truck or similar, put an ad in the paper, dig, and if they’re lucky get paid for it… so many contractors don’t pay – just part of an industry rife with cowboys from the top to the bottom…


    • Actually before the job centre was revitalised here, it was the local paper and who you knew. Mostly who you knew. Still is 😦 Luckily Partner is a pretty good networker (unlike me) and we met someone yesterday who suggested a few firms to apply to that we hadn’t thought of.

      If the security guards pay and take me to somewhere veg, I’m game. Otherwise….

      Never a truer word was spoken regarding construction. And that’s before you get onto the crims. Can’t remember if I have written my Sydney mafia post yet! Must have a look in the archives and if I haven’t I will post it up.


  5. Oh my gosh … except for the specifics pertaining to your part of the world, you’ve described a lot of what happens on the US job front. Here there’s also the crap about everyone who tries to interview for a job (they hope is legitimate) having to prove that they have the strength of Superman, the ability to ignore their family without seeming like a jerk, the memory of a politician (perfect in terms of spin on their own behalf) and the ability to sell anything as well as a corporation can with its insidious dirty tricks and bold-faced lies. Not to mention industry-specific experience and technical skills, and a college degree. All for pennies above minimum wage. (Which no one can live on. Especially if they’re paying off college debt.)


    • Hi. I’ve read the last couple of episodes (off topic here) and am just glued to seat with nothing to say apart from waiting for the next one!

      OK. I read something recently about someone who had obtained a doctorate and finally plucked up the courage to look up her debt. $135,000 or something similar! I nearly died when I read it. If it had been my debt I definitely would have MI-ed.

      I’m lucky with my partner. He’s nearly 60, doesn’t mind what money he earns (would prefer more not less) but doesn’t seem to suffer age discrimination.

      I think I do – middle aged woman with two degrees, a good career behind her and expects decent money. Why hire me? I’m not even a hot chick any more who will work for peanuts to get that first step on those slippery rungs. Nah, best to keep employing mediocrity and perpetuating the same old crap. It annoys me, in case that isn’t clear 😀

      But it also annoys me that he has 40 years experience, training and qualifications and people with none of those are getting the same money or private work on the black. It’s frustrating to be straight, squeaky clean, (not because I am Ms Perfect just because I don’t have the guts to chance anything and be illegal) and see this going on around you.


      • Thanks for the kind words about the story. 🙂 I’m so glad it’s still working for you.

        And I really hear what you’re saying. I don’t have any degrees and I’m middle aged, but even at the jobs services organization I go to, the people with degrees, experience and age are having trouble, too. I don’t know what to do in that arena. This is why I write like a madwoman.


        • I’m following three totally different stories at the moment, I can see why people where keen on reading Charles Dickens’ latest installments!

          The job situation becomes ever crazier here 😦 but more of that one later…


  6. bluonthemove says:

    I’m not sure the US$ has really bedded in as a single currency yet, and they’ve had that what, 200 plus years. There are parts of the USA which have severely high levels of unemployment and poverty, and one understands that California is pretty much bust, despite the tech goldmine around San Francisco. An unkind American friend explained to me, California was their Greece.

    Countries manage their economies in a variety of ways, but manipulating the value of their currency has always been an important one, as Sterling did most recently, in 2008, when the pound fell from being worth 2US$ to 1.3US$ within a year, as determined by market forces, taking the Gib pound down with it.

    This makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive, but doesn’t affect local people too much so long as the economy grows a lot of the food it requires, although oil and gas inevitably increase in price. This is the problem with the Euro, its market value is determined by the performance of the German economy, at the expense of all others.

    OT comment; Must be nice to have a summer to work summer hours too!!



    • I seriously have to keep coming back to check all my blogs as WP is totally f***ed at the moment and racking me off.

      Interesting view of America. I’ve no knowledge of the place. I like the people I meet on here but otherwise it ain’t top of my list of places to visit. As you say, new country…

      Sterling has always manipulated currency. Ever since Wilson and devaluation. And before that I guess. Always will. Unless we go into the euro? Unlikely now. I thought it would happen a few years ago but no-one with half a brain would touch it. Unless for some whacky speculation.

      I tell you. Summers are so boring! I’m just waiting for rain, cloud, and oh! I need to get a fan belt for the tumble dryer before all that happens 😀


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