Blacklisted building workers have won a major breakthrough in Europe following a groundbreaking meeting. On Thurs 30th June 2011 a delegation of blacklisted trade unionists and safety representatives from the Blacklist Support Group held private talks in Brussels with László Andor, European Union Commissioner with responsibility for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion to discuss potential EU wide legislation to outlaw blacklisting. The delegation declared: “the genuinely positive response from Commissioner Andor exceeded all our expectations”(Photo attached – see Editors Notes)
During the 45 minute meeting, Commissioner Andor was presented with documentary evidence from Brian Higgins, Steve Acheson and Dave Smith in the form of secret blacklist files kept about their activities as union safety reps in the UK construction industry. The files were compiled by the Consulting Association and provide damning evidence that major multi-national building firms systematically dismissed and victimised workers who raised concerns about health & safety issues or unpaid wages.
The secret blacklist files (up to 49 pages long) contain appalling levels of personal intrusion with sensitive information including; names, addresses, national insurance number, work history, medical history, press-cuttings, union meetings attended, speeches made, political affiliations. Many entries on the blacklist files are supplied by senior Industrial Relations managers from major construction firms relating to when an individual had spoken to their site managers about safety breaches such as asbestos or poor toilet facilities. The information in the blacklist files was circulated amongst multi-national building firms and used to deny workers employment on major construction projects. For many blacklisted workers this resulted in repeated sackings and long-term unemployment merely because they had raised concerns about safety on building sites.
Brian Higgins (blacklisted bricklayer – Secretary Northampton UCATT) said after the meeting:
The Blacklist is an economic, social and political prison. I have served a life sentence and other workers continue to be imprisoned. In cases like my own, the Blacklist effectively takes the form of house arrest because of its effect on a person’s social life. My wife was also deeply affected and badly scarred. More often that not, she was forced to financially support me, and our two children, on her low wage as a care worker. This has had a devastating effect on our standard of living. To her great credit my wife supported me and our family unstintingly. She held us together when things got really tough – which it did quite often. We kept our dignity intact and just managed to keep our heads above water by almost completely sacrificing our social life. My wife had to take out loans, which we could not afford, since my credit rating was zero due to very long spells of unemployment. All of this is the direct result of the building employers deliberately using the Blacklist, time and again, to deny me the right to work and to earn a living.
The construction companies identified as participating in the blacklisting operation include household names based and operating across Europe including: Skanska (Sweden), Bam (Netherlands), Vinci (France), Laing O’Rourke (Ireland), Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Costain, Carillion (UK) to name but a few. (See Editors Notes)
The right to join a trade union and not be be victimised because of it is enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights but lack of any specific EU wide legislation against blacklisting of individuals for safety reasons means that thousands of workers have suffered appalling financial and family hardship because of the covert actions of multi-national building firms.
Steve Acheson (blacklisted Electrician – Secretary Manchester Contracting Branch – UNITE) said:
We have been victimised by these firms just because we have stood up for safety issues; a cabin to dry wet clothes, asbestos, holiday pay, basic electrical checks. For many of us this conspiracy has meant years on the dole and family strains. But we are not just fighting for ourselves. This evil practice is almost certainly taking place in other industries and in other countries across Europe. I refuse to sit in my front room at home and turn into an old man, instead I choose to campaign on behalf of young workers in Poland, Spain, Greece, Ireland and any workers in Europe who are prepared to stand up for their basic human rights.
Also attending the meeting was Professor Keith Ewing from Kings College London (a leading academic in international law and human rights issues and the author of a UCATT Commissioned, IER report Ruined Lives. Blacklisting in the UK Construction Industry) who presented possible legislative options open to the European Union highlighting the fact that many of the companies involved in the blacklist were European based. He also drew attention to the fact that blacklisting violates many provisions of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and that the EU had the authority and responsibility to respond to this major violation of health and safety standards.
The meeting was arranged by Stephen Hughes MEP& and Glenis Willmott MEP (Labour’s Leader in Europe Parliament) who are taking up the issue in the European Parliament.
Stephen Hughes MEP said:
Blacklisting is a genuine issue which affects all member states and I will work with colleagues to address this serious concern and apply parliamentary pressure to trigger action. This meeting is the beginning, not the end, of a process. Once we have planted the seed with Commissioner Andors, we will follow up with action in the European Parliament’s Employment Committee and the full Parliament. It will take time but we don’t give up easily!
Notes to Editors:
1. For individual interviews with the delegation about the talks with EU Commissioner Andor & their personal experience of blacklisting contact firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Attached photo shows (Left to Right): Professor Keith Ewing, Brian Higgins, Stephen Hughes MEP, EU Commissioner László Andor, Steve Acheson
3. The blacklisting of trade unionists in the construction industry was only exposed after an investigation by the Information Commissioners Office (UK data-protection watchdog) in 2009. The companies identified by the Information Commissioners Office as using The Consulting Association secret blacklisting are all household names including:
Amec, Amey, B Sunley & Sons, Balfour Beatty, Balfour Kilpatrick, Ballast Wiltshire, Bam Construction (HBC Construction), Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd), C B & I, Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd, Costain UK Ltd, Crown House Technologies, Carillion, Tarmac Construction, Diamond M & E Services, Dudley Bower & Co Ltd, Emcor (Drake & Scull), Emcor Rail, G Wimpey Ltd, Haden Young, Kier Ltd, John Mowlem Ltd, Laing O’Rourke, Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd, Miller Construction Limited, Morgan Ashurst, Morgan Est, Morrison Construction Group, N G Bailey, Shepherd Engineering Services, Sias Building Services, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Skanska (Kaverna / Trafalgar House Plc), SPIE (Matthew Hall), Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd, Turriff Construction Ltd, Tysons Contractors, Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd, Whessoe Oil & Gas, Willmott Dixon, Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group)
4. Ruined Lives. Blacklisting in the UK Construction Industry) was commissioned from IER by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and written by Professor Keith Ewing, IER’s President. The report formed the basis of a response to the Consultation Paper published by BIS in 2009
5. Blacklist Support Group was set-up to act as a support network on behalf of the 3216 individuals on the Consulting Association database following a meeting held at the House of Commons in June 2009 organised by John McDonnell MP. The Blacklist Support Group has led the campiagn against blacklisting by organsing fringe meetings at union conferences, entered submissions to proposed legislation, organised direct action, produced campaign video’s and is currently involved with a variety of legal challenges.