Friday, 6 July 2012

Blacklisted building workers fight back

A GMB report has revealed that two-hundred and twenty four building workers have been the victims of blacklisting by construction giant, Carillion, the builders of the DW Stadium, Wigan and the St Pancras Channel Tunnel Rail Link. 
BLACKLISTING - illegal corporate bullying: endemic, systemic and deep-rooted in Carillion and other companies lists more than 40 companies in the construction industry that used the Consulting Association (CA), an organisation that held a blacklist of 3,213 workers variously described as “extreme troublemaker”, “politically motivated” and “active in dispute.” 
Listed workers were “not recommended for employment.” 
The Information Commissioner’s Office closed down CA in 2009 and its owner, Ian Kerr, was found guilty of breaching the Data Protection Act 1998 and fined £5,000.
The names in the report first emerged at an Employment Tribunal earlier this year in which engineer Dave Smith claimed he was blacklisted by Carillion. In support of his compensation claim he presented a file from the CA showing extensive personal details, union safety representative’s credentials and newspaper cuttings on him. 
Carillion had secretly passed on this information after Smith  became an elected union safety rep, a role with legal rights to represent workers with the employer and investigate possible hazards. 
According to the Department for Business (DOB), safety reps annually save society over £600 million by preventing occupational injuries and work-related illnesses. They do though cost companies money by pushing them to increase spending on health and safety. 
Smith became a rep after a number of workplace incidents, including one where a young worker fell three floors from scaffolding lacking a safety handrail. More people - 50 in 2011 - are killed each year in construction than in any other industry.  
A married man with a family to support, Smith subsequently couldn’t secure any work during the early noughties construction boom. Carillion admitted supplying damaging information on him to CA, who subsequently provided it to other construction firms. 
 Smith’s tribunal application failed because he was not employed directly but via an employment agency, but the tribunal chair  Anthony Snelson expressed his “regret that the law provides him with no remedy.”  Despite this there are currently no plans by the DOB to close the legal loophole. 
Smith uncovered information on himself after a Manchester tribunal in 2006 ruled electricians Steve Acheson, Tony Jones and Graham Bowker had been unfairly dismissed when employed as subcontractors on the Carillion-organised Royal Manchester Infirmary site. 
Crucial to their success was Alan Wainwright, a former Carillion Human Resources Manager, who revealed the company had provided CA with information and also paid for it. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – charged with ‘data privacy for individuals’ had then raided CA’s offices in 2009. One year later the Government legislated to ‘make it unlawful to compile, use, sell or supply a blacklist.’ 
One of Britain’s biggest unions, the GMB, says Carillion checked 14,724 names against the blacklist between 1999 and 2004, paying £2.20 for each search. GMB official Justin Bowden also claims “ Carillion were still using the services of Kerr up until the ICO raid.” 
The union wants a public inquiry, fearing blacklisting has continued within the construction industry and seeking to ensure that such illegal activities are not replicated elsewhere in the economy. Michael Meacher, the Oldham West and Royston MP, has written to the Government asking for one, but David Cameron has said, “If there is any accusation of wrongdoing, the police can investigate.”  This is despite the tribunal testimony of ICO Investigation’s Manager David Clancy who said some information in blacklisted workers files “could only have been supplied by the police or the security services.” 
Smith viewed the unredacted blacklist at his tribunal and in June 2012 he revealed to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that elected politicians had been on CA’s files. He named senior managers and construction firm directors he claimed had personally engaged in blacklisting workers, including Liz Keates at Carillion Health.
He accused “Carillion and major building firms of conspiring against building workers concerned about safety. Consequently they have had their lives ruined by being denied employment.” Smith and over 100 workers intend taking legal action against some of the companies. 
A Carillion spokesperson said threatened legal proceedings made “it inappropriate to comment but Carillion does not condone or engage in blacklisting. We are not against unions and recognise them for some of our workforce.”

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