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Blacklist exposed

Steve Murphy on the human cost and breach of human rights.

It is over four years since the blacklisting scandal first broke in March 2009. In construction, workers had always feared that some kind of blacklist existed, however the scale and organisation behind it had not been appreciated.

When the Information Commissioner's Office raided the Consulting Association they discovered that over 40 major construction companies had been involved in the blacklisting of 3,200 construction workers.

Nor was blacklisting a sporadic event. In its final year of operation the two biggest blacklisters Sir Robert McAlpine and Skanska spent £26,842 and £28,123 respectively on blacklisting checks. Each check cost £2.20 so in the case of Skanska they made 12,783 checks in 2008 or 35 per day.

Workers who were blacklisted had their lives ruined and were constantly denied work, without knowing the reason why.

It has been incredibly difficult for blacklisted workers to win justice. Blacklisting wasn't illegal in 2009, although provision to end blacklisting had been included in the 1999 Employment Relations Act, the necessary regulations had not been introduced. It was not until 2010, that anti-blacklisting regulations were finally introduced and these are far too weak to prevent blacklisting reoccurring.

Blacklisted workers have tried to take cases to employment tribunals showing unfair detriment and discrimination; most have been unsuccessful as the companies involved in the blacklisting were not employing workers directly and were instead employing workers via agencies.

This is why UCATT has filed a case at the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the failure of successive Governments to outlaw blacklisting breached workers' human rights under Article 11 on Freedom of Association and Article 14 on anti-discrimination. The case was lodged in late 2011 and the ECHR is still waiting for the British Government's response.

Meanwhile a large number of blacklisted workers are now preparing a class action case against the major blacklisting companies.

It is not clear how far these cases will proceed or whether they will be successful. This is one of the reasons why UCATT is calling on the companies involved to create a compensation fund for the workers they blacklisted. While these companies now say they are sorry, they have not demonstrated that contrition in any meaningful way. UCATT believes and has argued that until the blacklisted workers receive compensation, the companies involved should be barred from bidding for public sector contracts. A growing number of councils have now passed motions barring companies who were involved in blacklisting from bidding for contracts.

In recent months a large amount of new information on the blacklisting scandal has entered the public domain. Much of the credit for that is due to the Scottish Affairs Select committee which has conducted a longstanding and wide-ranging inquiry into blacklisting.

They have summoned to give evidence Ian Kerr, the Chief Executive Officer of the Consulting Association, Cullum McAlpine, the first chair of the Consulting Association, and senior representatives from the major blacklisters Skanska and Balfour Beatty.

These evidence sessions have clarified much of the missing information about how the Consulting Association operated. It was the Committee's questioning of Ian Kerr which proved that blacklisting took place at the Olympics. When Skanska gave evidence it was revealed that their representative on the Consulting Association Stephen Quant had been responsible for blacklisting every electrician who had worked on the Jubilee Line extension.

It was also revealed that as well as trade unionists and construction workers, the Consulting Association had blacklisted over 200 environmental activists. However, their files were not confiscated by the ICO (and have subsequently been destroyed by Kerr) as their warrant only covered construction workers.

A further critical development, outside the select committee and as a result of one of the employment tribunal cases, is the fact that information on various workers' blacklisting files could only have been supplied by the police or the security forces. This has now resulted in the Metropolitan Police being forced to undertake a major investigation into their involvement in blacklisting. The investigation is being overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

In an unprecedented move in January the Labour Party held an opposition day debate on blacklisting, the first time the blacklisting scandal had been debated in the House of Commons.

Despite the large amount of new material which has been generated in the last few months, which has given us a much clearer idea of how blacklisting was conducted, there is a huge amount of information still to be revealed. That is why UCATT has been calling for an independent inquiry into blacklisting so the victims of this appalling injustice can finally receive full answers about who was responsible for ruining their lives. An inquiry will also dramatically improve the case to strengthen the anti-blacklisting laws to ensure that this can never happen again.