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Gibraltar News

by Tristan Cano |  Published: May 01, 2007

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A new breed of foreign worker in Gibraltar
It is 22:00 on a Thursday evening and Harry is coming to the end of his eight-hour shift as a customer-services representative at a Gibraltar-based online betting company. "I moved to Gibraltar two years ago from South Africa after securing my job through a telephone interview. Luckily, I had friends to stay with for my first few weeks in Gib." Harry will probably be just in time for "last orders" at a bar in Gibraltar before returning to his flat across the border, which he shares with a French girl whose name I did not catch. He is one of many foreign nationals who for a variety of reasons have found themselves working in Gibraltar but living across the border in Spain. But what attracts people like Harry to the Rock, and what do Gibraltarians think of this new breed of foreign workers and the fact that they earn their money in Gibraltar but spend most of it in Spain?

Gibraltar has been traditionally receptive to foreign labour throughout the years, having long enjoyed the presence of a Spanish workforce on the Rock. More recently, workers from Morocco were called upon to ease the shortages caused by the closure of Gibraltar's border with Spain. Additionally, Gibraltar has always counted on British expatriates who have relocated to Gibraltar, and since the border reopened, on those who live in nearby Spain and for whom English-speaking Gibraltar is the obvious place to seek employment. Furthermore, specialists from the UK or other Commonwealth countries have always been welcomed where expertise in certain niche areas has been lacking locally.

In recent times, however, Gibraltar's foray into eGaming has been the basis for an entirely different type of migrant worker. Unskilled workers who are attracted to Gibraltar by the quality of life have taken low-end jobs in the sector as a means to this end. Harry's move to Gibraltar, for example, was inspired by something quite different: "I had some experience in the gaming industry and chose Gibraltar because I had heard how great the weather was over here." When you also consider that wages in the gaming industry are relatively high in comparison with other European countries, you can see why Gibraltar is such an attractive proposition for this new breed of foreign migrant workers.

However, Gibraltarians themselves are not all thrilled with the number of workers arriving from overseas. Memories of the Ministry of Defence regularly bringing workers from the UK to do the jobs that Gibraltarians were either not trusted or deemed incapable of doing remain fresh on the minds of many. Local workers were often passed up for promotion in favour of their English colleagues, who often had better employment conditions simply by reason of their nationality. However, this best-forgotten relic of Gibraltar's colonial past has not discouraged a huge number of locals from seeking employment in the industry. Gaming companies have been on the Rock for almost 10 years. However, the foreign workers attracted by their arrival has not resulted in locals being denied job opportunities, or indeed the best jobs. In fact, there are more people in registered employment in Gibraltar each year, and local unemployment levels remain low. Furthermore, whereas many foreign firms may not go as far as to give preference to locals, Gibraltarians are geographically better positioned to get these jobs, and foreign companies know that employing locals is a good way to keep the authorities sweet.

In fact, it could be argued that in Gibraltar, the whole community benefits from the influx of foreign workers; from small local businesses all the way up to the government, which claims income tax and social security payments regardless of whether the payer is a foreign national living in Spain and enjoying very few of the attached benefits. Overseas nationals working on the Rock are also entitled to participate in the government pension scheme, creating a larger pool of contributors, which, in theory at least, should have positive repercussions for contributing locals. Socially, Gibraltar has also benefited from the injection of new blood from nations much farther afield than they are normally accustomed to. A traditionally vibrant and cosmopolitan society, Gibraltar has keenly welcomed immigrant workers from North America, the Far East, and beyond.

Whilst there are some in the industry who decide to live locally, Gibraltar would do well from having more gaming company employees living and spending more of their earnings on the Rock. Like many others, Harry originally rented a flat in Gibraltar, but after a couple of months moved across the border to La Linea, a town that due to Gibraltar's eGaming boom has almost four times more foreigners than it did in 1999: "I pay half of what I was paying in Gib and live closer to my friends and the bars and restaurants I like." It is perhaps unfortunate that Gibraltar does not have more to offer Harry in that respect, but with space and cheap accommodations at a premium, the fact is that there is little choice but to allow neighbouring Spain to continue to profit from their prosperity. Gibraltarians can only hope that Spain will appreciate the gesture and reciprocate the goodwill the next time some "Rocky" political issue is at stake.

In my previous column, I mentioned that the land border between Gibratlar and Spain opened in 1988. In fact, the border began partially reopening in 1982, when Gibraltarian and Spanish pedestrians were allowed one crossing per day. However, by 1985, the border was fully opened, allowing, in addition, the crossing of vehicular traffic. spade

Tristan Cano lives and writes about the gaming industry in Gibraltar.