INTERESTED IN HOUSING – Dedication and innovation of Pepe Baldachino

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Joseph Baldachino, 71, universally known as Pepe, was born on the Rock, married Lourdes Dyer and they have two children, Gwendolyn and Jeremy and three grandchildren. His father in law was the legendry boxing figurehead Dick Dyer.

Educated at St Jago’s school where he remembers teachers Messrs Cruz and Abecasis and Mrs Wood (nee Romero) with particular respect. Leaving school at fifteen, he went to find a job at the Labour Exchange where he was instructed to read The Gibraltar Chronicle and find details of apprentice courses. As he did not wish to enrol as an apprentice, he knocked on doors until a position was found. This was a shop assistant at Attias the Tailor. From there, he went to Barclays Bank DCO as a messenger where he remained until he was 21. He joined the Ministry of Defence and was sent to the Royal Air Force headquarters as a messenger and then temporary clerk. The RAF decided to take civilians into the airport fire service, he applied and after training at Gibraltar RAF base and RAF Manston in Kent, qualified as a fireman. This was where he became involved with trade unionism. There were nine civilians who all became members of the ACTS union, one of three sections of the Transport and General Workers Union run by Jose Netto and Joe Bossano. The civilians were augmented by RAF personnel, he held one of the two civilian L/F Rank.

RAF Manston – Inspection

After being elected shop steward, he was elected to be a member of the TGWU/ACTS branch and then onto the district committee representing all non-industrial ACTS members in the Ministry of Defence.

Baldachino remained in the RAF fire service for 21 years. With sadness, he remembers the loss of a Canberra and a Hunter aircraft; where all crew members had lost their lives. He was on duty on both occasions.

In 1976, he supported the new Gibraltar Democratic Movement formed by Joe Bossano to replace the Integration with Britain Party which had lost its way following the publication of the Hattersley Memorandum. Joe worked hard for the GDM in the run up to the election of 23rd September 1976. Four GDM candidates were elected; Joe Bossano, Dr Reggie Valarino, Brian Perez and Gerald Restano. Messrs Victory, Mascarenhas, Brooking and Gingell were not elected. This was a hotchpotch of candidates with only James Brooking, Joseph Victory and Joseph Gingell being active trade unionists.

The Gibraltar Council Member 1980

Joe Bossano then formed the Gibraltar Socialist and Labour Party (GSLP) and stood with five other trade unionists in the 1980 election. These were Michael Feetham, Joe Gingell, Charles Robba, Louis Perez and Joe Victory. The only candidate to be elected was Joe Bossano who was second in the poll and only 64 votes behind Sir Joshua Hassan.

During these four years, Pepe together with Juan Carlos worked continuously behind the scenes to ensure that eventually, the GSLP would be adequately represented in the House of Assembly. This came to pass when in the 1984 election all seven members of the opposition were members of the GSLP. These were Joe Bossano, Joe Pilcher, Michael Feetham, Mari Montegriffo, Juan Carlos Perez, Robert Mor and himself. Joe Victory was not elected.

Joe Bossano and the GSLP triumphed in the 1988 election and Pepe was appointed Minister for Housing after suggesting to the Chief Minister that this was a subject that he was particularly interested in. He paid tribute to Peter Caetano who as election agent had masterminded the campaign. Upon election, all members of the GSLP kept their union memberships. Excellent relations were kept with the trade unions and also the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce. The Chief Minister appointed him a member of the Gibraltar Council from 1988 to 1996.

First time elected to the House of Assembly 1984

The challenge was enormous with 2186 applicants waiting to be housed. He remained Minister of Housing and Building and Works until 1993 by which time the  number of applicants had been reduced to 253.

During this period, the Chief Minister instructed Michael Feetham to mastermind the reclamation of what was to become Europort. When the flats had been built, Pepe administered the 50/50 scheme which enabled Gibraltarians to be able to purchase on mortgage with the government paying for half of the price of the flat. This meant that the government had to pay nothing for the land which was reflected in prices lower than the market rate and, most importantly, there was no provision for profit. The only restriction was that those wishing to buy had to be either on the housing list or entitled to be. Those who released Government flats were also eligible.

This was possible because the land earmarked for the 50/50 scheme was paid for by the sale of the remaining reclaimed land to private developers for the construction of office blocks, a supermarket, a petrol station, restaurants and flats to be sold in the private sector.

The selling price of the flats in the 50/50 scheme was negotiated and agreed with the developer. This scheme was not confined to the new land at Europort. The Gibraltar Government in a short space of time built 700 flats at Harbour Views, 600 in Montagu Gardens and 200 in Brympton, and on a different scale 425 in Sir William Jackson Grove where 125 2RKB (two rooms, kitchen and bathroom) flats were specially constructed for the allocation of our senior citizen on Government Rental bases. This was the first time that bespoke flats had been built for senior citizens.

Housing South Depot Staff

There were also tax advantages in that claims on the tax return could be made on the interest payments on the mortgage which is the norm. However, it was also introduced that during the construction period, a £10,000 tax allowance could be claimed on the capital. This did not exist anywhere else in the world.

He was appointed Minister for Labour and Employment from 1993 until the election in 1996. The Chief Minister set him the major task of reducing the number of unemployed which stood as 1000. He is proud that at the time of the 1966 election, the number had been reduced to 331.

This was achieved by setting up the Construction Training Centre which enabled apprentices to obtain the National Vocational Qualification. The NVQ is a work-based qualification which recognises the skills and knowledge a person needs to do a job. The candidate needs to demonstrate and prove their competency in their chosen role or career path. This was a new concept on the Rock which benefited many young men. Pepe also worked with the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce. He spearheaded a campaign to persuade local companies to employ those Gibraltarians on the unemployed register. There was no compulsion and he appealed to their better nature.

Spanish workers can join the TGWU or any other union. There is no closed shop and no differences between the rates of pay of Gibraltarian and Spanish, or any other nationality, workforce. One difference is that whilst Spaniards can go and look for work, if they are unemployed, they do not appear on the local unemployment register.

Hastings Election 1996

Most domestic workers commute from across the border and do not have employment contracts as they do not register anywhere, do not belong to a union, and come and go as they please. Therefore, it is impossible to track them down and ensure that they are being paid the minimum wage. Strangely, there is nothing in European law covering domestic workers. The hourly rate is agreed between the employer and the worker. Many of the domestics work for a variety of different houses and it is customary for all the employers to pay the same rate but this might well be below the minimum wage.

It is possible for a domestic to register as self-employed and providing all the taxes and social insurance are paid, there is no reason why they should not qualify for an old age pension. That said, it is unlikely that any domestic has registered as employed.

Persons who are care workers and clean offices are likely to be employed by a company. In which case, there would be a contract and all the protection it offers. Many of these workers are union members. The GSLP in its first term in office passed a law that every worker on the Rock has to have a contract of employment. Every employer, before filling a vacancy, has to register it with the Employment Board. The ETB has 14 days to send a person who is registered as unemployed for an interview. If the person is found to be unsuitable then the employer has freedom of selection.

The GSLP lost the 1996 and the 2000 elections and Pepe was the shadow Minister for Housing, Social Services and Employment.

After the death of Robert Mor, there was a by-election which the GSLP did not contest and instead supported Dr Joe Garcia, the Liberal candidate who thereby won the by-election.

The Sargossa Basketball Team’s visit 1989 when he stood in for the Minister of Sport

As a result, there was an agreement between the two parties to field five GSLP and three Liberal candidates; this has never been an alliance. This means that the position of deputy Chief Minister does not have to be a Liberal. It is the prerogative of the Chief Minister to appoint whoever he chooses and he decided that the position would be held by Dr Joseph Garcia.

One of the most important achievements of the GSLP Government was to achieve maximum social mobility linked to meritocratic opportunity. Another was the considerable amount of inward investment brought in by Joe Bossano which revolutionised the economy.

Pepe retired at the 2003 election and his position was taken by Fabian Picardo. He was self-employed driving buses taking tourists round the Rock and retired two years later. During these two years, he worked behind the scenes for the GSLP and, in September 2014, was elected Chairman of the GSLP. In his acceptance speech he said “I would like to thank my predecessor Juan Carlos Perez for all the sterling work he has done for the GSLP over the years. I am glad that he continues to be an executive member of the committee as the party will be able to count on his experience”.

Chairman organises the meetings of the Executive Committee, attends every meeting and organises meetings with party officials. He is delighted with the expanding youth section and the recently formed a women’s section. Fabian Picardo takes precedence over Chairman because he is the elected leader of the party. In theory, it is possible for the leader not to be an MP but this has never happened.

Pepe points out that the GSLP’s constitution means that it is a transparent political party with all candidates, appointments and the manifesto subject to the majority vote of party members. All these matters are decided at the all-important General Meeting. Leader of the party has to stand for election every two years.

Pepe Baldachino, Senior Citizens Club 2017

Retirement has been busy with Pepe appointed Chairman of the Prison Parole Board, Chairman of the Rent Tribunal, Director of Community Care and a committee member of the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Gibraltar Branch). He is also acting Secretary of the Senior Citizen’s Social Club in Town Range whose President is Joe Bossano.

Pepe has some observations about Gibraltar’s future. “We are now embarking into an unknown future due to Brexit. The British Government must continue to protect us when Gibraltar is outside the European Union. But my trust really lies in our Gibraltar Government. We will survive whatever happens. As long as there is a GSLP Government, there will never ever be a surrender of one jot of sovereignty to the Spanish Government. I was honoured to serve in the government led by Joe Bossano which laid down the foundations of today’s prosperous economy”.

words | Mike Brufal