The Scottish Affairs Committee in the UK Parliament is hearing evidence from anti-blacklisting campaigners on blacklisting of workers, particularly in the construction industry, for supposed political or union affiliations. The inquiry is investigating the extent of the problem of blacklisting within Scotland, and what is being done to eradicate it.
Put before the committee was written evidence from electrician Kenny Newton who said:
"My name appears on the Consulting Association database along with another 279 whose "file" contains only a name and nothing else. If one uses their imagination you could multiply many times the number of people that this may have affected.
As to having proof of being blacklisted well that could be in the majority of cases difficult to prove. I could write a book on the number of times that I have been victimised by my past employers. While working for a number of electrical construction companies I was deliberately kept off jobs and in many cases worked as the sole electrician on construction sites. Most companies are quite subtle and are usually economical with the truth when approached regarding such matters."
For more info and background on The Consulting Association (TCA) see our previous report.
At present, enforcement of an individual's employment rights (pay, terms and conditions etc) is largely dependent on employee action. This means that the employee needs to both understand their rights and the route by which they might enforce them as well as be prepared to take action.
A second problem is the scale and complexity of the UK's regulatory environment, as recognised by the Hampton Review (2005).
Unlike many European countries, the UK has no single agency organising labour inspections, and this has led to differential protection of workers rights by sector or type of employment, This complexity makes joint working, or shared training and standards far more difficult to achieve.
Anti blacklisting campaigners have warned one of the UK’s largest construction companies Skanska UK it must chose whether to “be part of the clean-up or part of the cover-up”.Harvey Francis, Executive VP of the company admitted to the Westminster inquiry that the company had been the biggest single contributor to the anti-union surveillance database during it's 16-year relationship with the now-defunct TCA.
However, Francis told the Committee he had no knowledge that tens of thousands of workers had been subjected to what he called “a process of vetting”, despite his role as HR director at the time.
Skanska – claimed it used an industry-wide blacklist to prevent workers with a history of health and safety breaches or records of drug abuse and alcohol problems from working on ‘high profile projects”. “The company is truly sorry for what happened,” he said.
Asked by the chair of the select committee, Ian Davidson MP whether he would provide a copy of the company’s findings from the internal blacklisting inquiry, Francis said he was being advised by his company’s lawyer that the report was ‘legally privileged’ and could not be made public.
Skanska is the first company to refuse to divulge information in this way since the Scottish Affairs Select Committee began the blacklisting inquiry in June 2012. Senior members of the committee have subsequently made it clear to the company and its lawyers that they are “not happy” about the refusal to hand over the document.
Asked whether the company now felt it had a moral obligation to compensate those who were denied the right to work as a result of Skanska’s participation in blacklisting, Frances told MPs: “If they could demonstrate that our action prejudiced them getting a job, we would look at that on an individual basis.”
However, he was immediately challenged by Ian Davidson to explain how the company could consider an individual complaint by a blacklisting worker, yet it was preparing to resist class action cases for compensation by hundreds of workers which is expected to come to court later this year. Major employers such as Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and Carillion could come to court “within weeks”.
GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “In the light of today’s evidence, Skanska must now decide if it wants to be part of the clean-up of this industry or part of the cover-up of blacklisting.”
Meanwhile for blacklisted workers in Wales, Solidarity Trade Union has welcomed news that the welsh government could introduce tough new anti-blacklisting laws by next year in the wake of a scandal affecting thousands of workers, including 111 from 46 areas in Wales. GMB Wales officer Mike Payne and Labour Assembly Member (AM) Vaughan Gething are drafting strict new public procurement rules which would stop around £4 billion in public money being handed to companies that blacklist workers.
Both Mr Payne and Mr Gething will put their proposals to Wales' Finance Minister Jane Hutt in March and believe that new laws may be passed asquickly as next year. The proposals are likely to enjoy cross-party support in the Welsh Assembly.
In England, as we previously reported, there may also be a connection to the blacklisting and Metropolitan Police Officers, Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group said: "We want to know why information collected by the police has ended up on a secret blacklist of trade unionists operated by multinational companies. He said "If police collusion is proven, at best it is individual corruption. At worst it is systematic state involvement in a major human rights conspiracy."
In August 2012, the pressure group Liberty threatened to take the UK government to court to force an investigation into the case. The legal officer for Liberty, Corinna Ferguson, said: "We can't believe the inaction of the Information Commissioner on a human-rights violation of such wide public interest.
Contracting out the blacklisting of innocent workers, politicians and journalists is no better than farming out phone hacking to private detectives and the consequences for our democracy are just as grave. If we cannot persuade the Commissioner to discharge his public duty, we will consider seeking assistancefrom the courts."
The investigation follows mounting evidence that both the police and the security forces may have provided information for a blacklist run by The Consulting Association.
Solidarity Trade Union has joined the GMB, Unite and Ucatt unions in calling for a Leveson-style inquiry to investigate and expose blacklisting.
Report by Ian Bell