Published in the Big Issue in the North magazine 25 Feb-2 March 2013.
A blacklisted building worker from Ilkley has received the support of his council leader in his battle to have firms involved in the practice banned from securing council contracts.
Electrician Sandy McPherson is one of at least 201 construction workers known to have either lived or worked in Yorkshire and Humberside whose names appear on the Consulting Association (CA) database of 3,213 workers used by 44 building companies to vet potential new recruits over the last four decades. The companies include Carillion, Balfour Beatty and Sir Robert McAlpine. In January the latter two admitted, to MPs at a select committee hearing, using the CA services to vet workers on Olympic sites.
Many of the workers on the CA database were “not recommended for employment.” According to the GMB trade union fewer than one in ten are aware they are listed and none have been compensated. McPherson’s file with the CA stated: ‘Subject joined company (Haden Young) on February 18 1980, he is a shop steward and very active undercover.’ He was subsequently sacked won £600 compensation for unfair dismissal.
McPherson’s details were revealed after the Information Commissioner’s Office closed down CA in 2009 and its owner, Ian Kerr, was found guilty of breaching the Data Protection Act. McPherson believes his subsequent inability in the mid-1980s to find work on the larger London building sites, where as a result of trade union activities the pay and conditions are traditionally better, could have been a consequence of his CA listing. McPherson subsequently moved north in 1992 and as he approaches retirement he is still working as a self-employed electrician.
In December councillors in Hull unanimously voted to remove blacklisting firms from its list of council contractors. McPherson’s Unite union branch then asked Bradford, Wakefield, Leeds, Calderdale and Kirklees councils requesting them to follow suit. Leeds City Council has just awarded Carillion a £10 million contract to strengthen and repair the A58 Woodhouse Tunnel in the centre of Leeds and all five councils have contracts with companies that used CA.
McPherson is a resident of Bradford Council, where the Labour council leader Dave Green has written to him saying: “We are currently looking at adding to our procurement requirement protocols that would address your concerns. I find it totally unjustifiable that firms that have carried out illegal blacklisting or have broken other laws relating to employment or health and safety should be able to bid for public sector contracts with impunity.”
A “delighted” McPherson hopes the other four councils written to will now respond positively. He is also pleased that Liverpool City Council has passed a motion calling on construction firms seeking major contracts locally to affirm they would never again use blacklists to stop people getting work. Around 150 people from Merseyside were listed on the CA files.
A national Blacklist Support Group (BSG), which was established three years ago, has won the support of Labour Party for a public inquiry into blacklisting. However Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is opposed, said: “If it is actually going on, it is a serious matter and it needs investigation. I, of course, will want to see it properly investigated, but we want some evidence.”
The BSG is pursuing a case through the High Court for compensation for blacklisted workers.