It’s time for a public inquiry into blacklisting

02 November 2012 By Sarah Glenister New developments show the Information Commissioner's Office seized only a tiny minority of evidence when blacklist holder Consulting Association was investigated in 2009.

Commentary icon2 Nov 2012|Comment

Sarah Glenister

National Development Officer, Institute of Employment Rights

02 November 2012

By Sarah Glenister

New developments show the Information Commissioner’s Office seized only a tiny minority of evidence when blacklist holder Consulting Association was investigated in 2009.

Back in August, we wrote about the continued injustice faced by workers across the UK, particularly in the construction sector, who are being blacklisted for trade union activity and effectively locked out of employment. Astonishingly, blacklisting continues to be legal in the UK, revealing a shocking anti-trade unionist ideology remaining at the heart of consecutive governments, which are increasingly in the pocket of big business.

New developments have revealed the situation may be even worse than we thought, following recent revelations that investigations into blacklisting three years ago failed to uncover the vast majority of evidence. It is time for a public inquiry into this scandal, which continues to put vulnerable employees out of work in the interest of profit and anti-trade unionism.

In 2009, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) launched an investigation into the Consulting Association, a private company which held an extensive blacklist that was sold to major firms across the UK. An investigation into the employers themselves could not be instigated owing to that fact they had not broken any current laws, and when it came to prosecuting Consulting Association Owner Ian Kerr, they could only muster a £5,000 fine for breaking data protection laws. For the workers, some of whom had lost their livelihoods due to blacklisting, they won the right to see the records that had been seized from Consulting Association, but no compensation in sight.

As if this situation was not bad enough, the ICO admitted to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday (30th October 2012) that they only ever looked into 5-10% of the documents held by the Consulting Association. This means thousands more workers could still be being targeted by Ian Kerr, and he may still be selling their information onto prospective employers.

What’s more, the ICO was accused of not doing enough to get in contact with those on the list and it was revealed the ICO has received at least one call from someone – presumably an employer – giving a false name in an effort to find out if a trade union member had been blacklisted. This news shows the efforts of the ICO to help blacklisted workers – in the form of setting up a hotline – simply are not enough and may be open to abuse.

Keith Ewing, President of the Institute of Employment Rights and Professor of Public Law at King’s College London, said:

“The blacklisting scandal just grows and grows, with the alarming evidence from the Scottish Affairs Committee that only 5-10% of the files have been uncovered. What happened to the rest of the files? Who has them? And who is using them?

It is time for a Leveson-style public inquiry into this disgraceful behaviour if we are ever to get to the bottom of the nature and scale of the problem, and if we are ever to find out who the real victims are.
Blacklisting is a disgusting and dirty business. Those responsible should feel the full force of the criminal law on their shoulders.”

Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotherham has tabled an early day motion (EDM 609 on Blacklisted Workers) for a “public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal, the Information Commissioner’s Office to inform all individuals who appear on blacklists, companies guilty of blacklisting to be barred from tendering for public-sector contracts, strengthening of existing blacklisting regulations and for blacklisting to become a criminal offence”.

UCATT is sending postcards to its members to write to their MPs urging them to sign the EDM. For postcards and for information on contacting your MP, click here.

You can hear a recording of the evidence given to the select committee here.

Support the IER and receive free employment law publications and reduced entrance fees to our employment law seminars and conferences by subscribing to the IER.

Read Keith Ewing’s Briefing on blacklisting

The Institute of Employment Rights was commissioned by UCATT to write a briefing on blacklisting policy in the UK.

In Ruined Lives, Keith Ewing calls for the government to make blacklisting a criminal offence and to ensure affected workers are compensated.

Ruined Lives is now on special offer at just £5

Sarah Glenister

Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister is the Institute of Employment Rights' IT Development and Communications Assistant.