Think tank: Blacklisted workers need a change in the law as well as a public inquiry

Submitted by sglenister on Fri, 23/03/2018 - 17:12

23 March 2018

After the Metropolitan Police today admitted a role in the conspiracy to blacklist thousands of workers in the construction industry, leading labour law think tank the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) supports calls for a public inquiry into the scandal, and reiterates our recommendation for legislative reforms, including criminal sanctions for those who blacklist.

In the recent IER report, Blacklisting: The need for a public inquiry (including a Manifesto Against Blacklisting), Alex Just - a barrister who represented blacklisted workers in their High Court Case - puts forth a Manifesto Against Blacklisting that recommends legal reforms to protect workers.

The need for stronger legislation is evidenced by both the extent of the conspiracy, and the fact that, while blacklisted workers were eventually paid compensation, construction companies were able to use their legal might to force a settlement out of court, which means they have never been officially found ‘guilty’ in a court of law. Those whose livelihoods were ruined by the scandal feel that a financial penalty is no more than a slap on the wrist, and want to see all of those responsible held publicly to account.

The key proposals of the Manifesto Against Blacklisting are:

  • Criminal sanctions for employers that illegally blacklist workers, including personal criminal liability for staff who knowingly blacklist
  • A 10-year ban on holding a directorship for any person found guilty of blacklisting
  • A ban from public contracts for firms that illegally blacklist workers
  • Compulsory training for HR directors and staff on the law around blacklisting
  • Stronger powers for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to investigate cases of suspected blacklisting
  • The establishment of a new UK Data Court to consider civil and criminal charges jointly so that judges are able to hear all of the evidence pertaining to a case

Making blacklisting a criminal offence is also a key proposal of the IER’s Manifesto for Labour Law - 25 recommendations that have been adopted as a blueprint for reform by the Labour Party.

Alex Just commented: "It is clear that the law as it stands is not robust enough to protect workers or to bring those operating illegal blacklists to account. Not only is there still a requirement for further legal action eight years on, but the employers involved continue to make billions in profit from public contracts having been able to evade being found officially 'guilty' of acts they have publicly admitted to.

"A thorough examination of the obstacles faced by blacklisted workers over the last eight years has revealed several key factors that we recommend are reviewed and changed in order to prevent another years-long scandal being dragged through the courts in the future. The law must provide justice to those workers who have lost years of their lives, and it must act as a deterrent to the secret continuation of blacklisting by holding those responsible to account."

A key element to providing true justice to blacklisted workers is to hold a public inquiry. In the IER report, Dave Smith, Secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, provides an account of the barriers to justice faced by blacklisted workers and makes the case for an inquiry to be held.

Dave Smith commented: "Before the 2009 ICO raid that finally proved us right, we were labelled conspiracy theorists, and even after we had the evidence it was an uphill struggle to be heard in court. Even for those who eventually received compensation, money alone is not justice.

"Blacklisted workers spent years of their lives struggling to make ends meet, with many reporting to me that the strain stretched beyond finances, to their families and relationships, their mental health, their social lives.

"What blacklisted workers most want to see is the individuals responsible for their suffering to be held to account. We want a full public inquiry to investigate the truth behind what happened, and we want a change in the law to prevent other workers from going through what we have."

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