Blacklisting ‘may not be a thing of the past’

The interim report of the Scottish Affairs Parliamentary Committee's inquiry into blacklisting on construction sites disagrees with Coalition claims that blacklisting is a thing of the past.

17 Apr 2013

 

Watch Union News’ report

Following evidence from several of the largest construction firms in the country – including Balfour Beatty, Sir McAlpine and Skanska – the Committee concluded that the organisations responsible for blacklisting have not done enough to take responsibility for their actions.

The Committee is also not convinced that blacklisting operations have stopped and has called on the Information Commissioner’s Office to perform further investigations on this question. The panel itself will also be looking for evidence of current blacklisting activity.

Ian Davidson, Chair of the Committee, said:

“We are appalled by what we have discovered during our committee hearings. The Consulting Association was an organised conspiracy by big construction firms, to discriminate against workers who raised legitimate grievances over health and safety and other industrial issues.

“This was an exercise run for the financial gain of the companies involved and those who benefited must be held accountable.

“We were neither convinced nor impressed by the attitude of the people involved in funding, operating and using this blacklist. The suggestion that this was somehow not a blacklist at all because people were not automatically refused employment if their name was on the list is ludicrous.

“Thousands of workers and their family members, had intrusive, private information filed away about them so that they could be systematically discriminated against. Workers were denied employment without explanation, financial hardship was caused, lives were disrupted or ruined.

“There was no right of appeal or challenge to the information held or the decisions made. If a very small number who were treated in this way were not always denied employment, that hardly changes the nature or purpose of the operation.

“Further, the suggestions that people were ‘only obeying orders’, or that there were just a few in an organisation who were responsible and no one else knew are just alibis and evasion. Even if this egregious practice was not illegal when it began, it was certainly immoral, and it carried on after it had become illegal.

“We are sure it would still be going on if the ICO had not uncovered the practice and raided the offices of the consulting association.

“The companies involved set up the blacklist for their own financial benefit, to avoid the risk of legitimate industrial relations or health and safety disputes on site resulting in delays to contracts, penalty clauses being invoked and financial loss.

“While some of the companies have expressed regret and taken steps to establish how this could have been allowed to go on, we are unclear whether they genuinely regret the practice, or more the fact that they got caught.

“Some of the actual entries on the blacklist beggar belief: snippets of malicious gossip about workers and their family members masquerading as ‘information’, or simple statements of legitimate union membership expressed as if it was a personal failing.

“This is an interim report; our inquiry so far has posed a series of key questions rather than answering them, particularly in regard to whether compensation should be offered to the people who suffered invasion of their privacy and loss of earnings as a result of this blacklist.

“We are now inviting further submissions on the four key question areas raised in this report, and we will be taking evidence from more of the firms involved.”

The Committee’s 4 key questions

  1. Is blacklisting still taking place, both within the construction industry and more widely, and especially in Scotland?
  2. Should compensation be paid, and to whom? Anyone whose name appeared on a blacklist? Those who can prove they were adversely affected by blacklisting? Who should provide the compensation?
  3. What penalties are appropriate for those firms and individuals who engaged in blacklisting and who benefited financially from the process, and is it appropriate to introduce a degree of retrospection? In addition, should firms which have been involved in blacklisting be prevented from tendering for public sector contracts in future? Or should they only be allowed to tender if they pay compensation to those who have been blacklisted?
  4. Is the existing legislation against blacklisting sufficient, if properly enforced, or do we need changes to the law to eradicate the practice?

Why were people blacklisted?

Some of the reasons for blacklisting employees discovered by the Committee included these direct quotes from the Consulting Association’s database:

  • After taking on showed signs of militancy over safety.
  • Subject is a shop steward and member of the TGWU. Is a troublemaker. If she is not a member of the CP her husband certainly is.
  • Involved in a dispute to try to enforce the main contractor to take responsibility for the non-payment of several weeks wages
  • While at xx , drew H&S issues to the attention of site manager been moved with two others (to avoid suspicion)
  • EETPU says no
  • Girlfriend has been involved in several marriages of convenience
  • Described self as a freemason
  • xx could perhaps be a son of xx
  • Advice to xx thought possibly coming from lecturers at xx University
  • Above described as one of Glasgow’s “murphia”

Read the full report here