23 January 2013
The IER has sent a briefing to all Labour MPs ahead of today’s debate on blacklisting, which is tabled to commence at 14:30. Our briefing is published below.
Introduction to the Blacklisting Scandal
Since the 1970s, a blacklist has been held on construction workers, essentially barring some of those who have been involved in trade union activities, highlighted health and safety concerns on site, and hundreds of environmental activists, from gaining employment.
The list was initially held by an organisation named the Economic League, but when this group broke up, the database of names was purchased for £10,000 by a newly launched body called Consulting Association (CA).
Members of CA, which both offered information to the body about their workers, and withdrew information on employees and candidates for jobs at their companies, included some of the largest names in the UK construction industry.
In 2009, CA was investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Documents showing the body was blacklisting workers for ‘disruptions’ that included being a member of a trade union or delaying projects due to health and safety concerns were seized. However, as blacklisting was not, and still is not, a criminal offence in the UK, the CEO of CA Ian Kerr was only fined £5,000 for breaking Data Protection Laws. The member companies, which had provided all the information to begin with, received no punishment at all. Furthermore, it has recently been revealed that Kerr’s fine, solicitor’s fees and redundancy payments for CA staff were paid by a crucial member of the CA – Sir Robert McAlpine. The company continue to deny they were involved in blacklisting activity.
Workers who had been blacklisted were given the right, in 2009, to seek compensation. But only if they phoned the ICO directly to find out if they had been blacklisted, and only if they could prove they had suffered loss as a result of this. Trade unions were not given the right to act on their members’ behalf and neither CA nor its rich members were asked to contact those they had blacklisted.
Today at 14:30, blacklisting will be discussed in parliament. Below is the briefing that the IER sent to MPs ahead of time.
Many of our points are based on the work of Professor Keith Ewing, President of the IER and author of the book Ruined Lives, a briefing on blacklisting which is currently on a cut-price sale.
ACTION ON BLACKLISTING
- There should be a positive right not to be blacklisted and workers who find themselves on a blacklist should have an automatic right to compensation without the burden of proof being placed upon them
- A retroactive compensation scheme should be established to compensate blacklisted workers
- Protection against blacklisting should be extended to include “trade union related activities”.
- Blacklisting should be a criminal offence and companies who make use of blacklists should be open to criminal prosecution.
- The government’s recently announced Advisory Council for the Construction Industry should be a tripartite body including workers’ representatives
OUR QUESTIONS TO GOVERNMENT
- Why was the government department responsible for promoting the interests of business given access to the unredacted files of blacklisted workers, without the consent of the workers in question?
- What – if any – are the links between those who operate blacklists on behalf of construction companies and the State?
- Does (or has) Special Branch and/or the security and intelligence services receive information from private sector blacklisters, and do these agencies provide information to private sector blacklisters?
- Is intelligence work of this kind outsourced to the private sector, and if so does this amount to covert or directed surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (the snoopers’ charter)?
- Blacklisting is not unlawful nor is it a criminal act
- Workers have not been provided with the right not to be blacklisted
- Compensation is available to those who can prove they have suffered loss as a result of blacklisting
- This protection, however, does not apply to those engaged in ‘trade union related activities’ only those blacklisted for ‘trade union activities’
- This means unofficial action is not protected
- It is up the courts to decide what counts as official and unofficial trade union activities
- Trade Unions do not have the right to act on behalf of their members to gain compensation
WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE 2009
- Following the ICO’s report into the Consulting Association in 2009, a telephone enquiry service was set up for workers to call if they suspected they had been blacklisted.
- Neither the CA nor its members was required to contact those who had been blacklisted
- A new GMB report states that as of autumn 2012, only 194 of the 3,213 people known by the ICO to have been blacklisted are aware they have been blacklisted. Those who are aware of their status have only gained this knowledge by phoning the ICO directly.
WHO WAS BLACKLISTED
- Ian Kerr has revealed 200 environmental activists were blacklisted, but these files were not seized by the ICO
- Ian Kerr has revealed safety reps were blacklisted for being ‘too persistent’ and likely to delay construction due to safety concerns.
- A recent Liverpool Echo investigation found 150 Merseyside workers were blacklisted, including for being members of trade unions and showing concern about health and safety standards. Information on these workers held by the CA included details of their personal and family lives, including whether they were suspected of having extra-marital affairs.
PUBLIC ENQUIRY NEEDED
Ian Kerr’s evidence to the Scottish Parliamentary Committee on 27th November 2012 revealed:
- Members of the police were intimately involved with the blacklisting process, providing information to senior members of the CA in return for information from the CA
- Union officials provided information about their own members
- Kerr and others involved with the CA sat in on union meetings undercover to gather information
- Sir Robert McAlpine paid Ian Kerr’s £5,000 fine for breaking the data protection act, solicitor’s fees and all costs associated with closing CA including redundancy payments to the order of £25,000
- Kerr admitted all document and computer records have been burned or destroyed.
- Kerr refused to respond publically to questions about the official vetting process for Irish Workers on Ministry of Defence contracts, requesting that he answer in private.
ICO’s evidence to the Scottish Parliamentary Committee on 30th October 2012 revealed:
- Only 5-10% of the records kept by the CA were ever seized
FAILURE OF CONSECUTIVE GOVERNMENTS TO INVESTIGATE BLACKLISTING
- Blacklisting has never received a full public inquiry in the UK
- In 2011, László Andor, European Union Commissioner began an investigation into the practice
- Most recently, the Scottish Parliamentary Committee has launched an investigation that has already revealed groundbreaking evidence
- Westminster itself has failed to follow up with a Leveson-style inquiry into a practice that was far-reaching, implicates many businesses and public sector workers, and has cheated thousands out of a livelihood.