Blacklist campaigner highlights injustice

Only one person has been prosecuted for their criminal culpability in the blacklisting scandal, with not a single construction director behind the illegal operation having faced charges.

However, Ian Kerr, the former head of the Consulting Association – the industry financed organisation that spied on union and safety activists and provided the information to major site firms – has now been joined by award-winning human rights campaigner Dave Smith, as the focus of a prosecution.

Smith, a blacklisted worker and secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, was found guilty this week but discharged at the City of London magistrates’ court for disrupting traffic in Park Lane, London, in a blacklisting protest in March last year.

Commenting after his conviction, he said since the scandal erupted, “only two people have ever been convicted because of their involvement with blacklisting — Ian Kerr and me.” Smith was not fined but the offence will be held on his record for the next six months.

The Green Party this week came out in support of calls for a public inquiry into the practice of blacklisting trade unionists and campaigners. Outgoing Green leader Natalie Bennett said: “The time has come for a public inquiry into the shameful practice of blacklisting. It’s vital that those who were discriminated against, and the public, gain an understanding of how this information on suspected trade unionists was collected and how it was shared with prospective employers.”

Green Party member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones added that companies caught using blacklisting should not be left with the responsibility for ridding the industry of the practice.

“That’s why parliament must step up and kick-start a public inquiry into blacklisting,” the baroness said. “I’m also urging any worker who was discriminated in this way to speak to me about their experiences. I’ll do all that I can to take this forward in the Lords.”

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Undercover police spied on rail union activists

Research by the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) has revealed that an undercover police officer masqueraded as a union activist to spy on members of the rail union RMT.

Photographic evidence unearthed by BSG secretary Dave Smith shows that in October 2004 Carlo Neri was present at a union protest following the sacking of the prominent union activist Steve Hedley at the Kings Cross terminal for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL).

The presence of the undercover officer from the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad was captured on camera by freelance photographer Andrew Wiard. The photographs show Neri standing behind an RMT banner with the slogan ‘Reinstate Steve Hedley’ while handing out leaflets to construction workers who had walked out in support of the victimised union activist.

Steve, now an elected senior assistant general secretary at RMT, commented: “I am appalled that a secret police spy thought that it was justified to turn up on a peaceful RMT picket line in order to gather information. I had earlier housed this person rent free as he claimed he was being made homeless and feel shocked that taxpayers’ money could be used like this to betray the trust of people engaged in completely legitimate industrial action.”

The photographs were rediscovered by Dave Smith while undertaking research for the updated version of the groundbreaking book ‘Blacklisted’.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has been aware for some time that there was a destroyed ‘rail file’ at the heart of the blacklisting conspiracy that has never been properly investigated.”

He added: “Both of RMT’s assistant general secretaries, Steve Hedley and Mick Lynch, were blacklisted and the union is demanding to know how many others were being spied on by the police and the employers’ organisations. The fight for truth and justice goes on.”

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Blacklisting firms face a £75m bill

Eight of the country’s biggest construction firms have agreed to pay an estimated £50m in compensation to blacklisted workers, equating to an average payout of £65,000 to each of the 771 workers.

Some of the agreed payments to workers victimised for their union and safety activities are thought to be in excess of 200,000. Legal fees are estimated to run to around £25m for the long-running legal case, scheduled to go before the high court as the 9 May settlement deal was finalised.

Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci settled the outstanding 256 cases with the union Unite for £10,435,000. Construction union UCATT then revealed it had secured £8.9m on behalf of the 156 cases it took for its blacklisted members. GMB said it settled at £5.4m for 116 blacklisted workers, plus £3m of legal costs under a deal struck last month.

And law firm Guney, Clark and Ryan is understood to have secured £6.6m for 167 victims it represented.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The massive scale of the agreed damages – more than £10 million – shows the gravity of the misdeeds of these major construction companies which created and used the Consulting Group [Association] as a vehicle to enable them to blacklist trade unionists on behalf of more than 30 construction companies. The sums to be paid out go a considerable way to acknowledge the hurt, suffering and loss of income our members and their families have been through over many years.”

Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, said: “Despite all of the denials and attempts to cover up their secret conspiracy, the largest multinationals in the construction sector have been forced to pay out millions in compensation. Make no mistake, the High Court action is a historic victory for the trade union movement against the vicious face of free market capitalism.”

TUC head of safety, Hugh Robertson, noted: “Without the support that of GMB, Unite, UCATT and of course the Blacklist Support Group, the workers would have either received nothing, or, at the very least, some token amount. That in itself is clear evidence of the importance of strong independent trade unions.”

The settlement came as industry leaders including Sir Robert McAlpine’s Cullum McAlpine – the man named as behind the most recent reinvention of the blacklister The Consulting Association – faced the prospect of questions in open court about their role in the victimisation of thousands of workers and activists.

Media coverage: Construction Enquirer. The Guardian. Personnel Today. BBC News Online.

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Blacklisting ‘wretches’ pay out millions in compensation after BSG led campaign

Hundreds of workers who were blacklisted by large firms in an illegal conspiracy have won compensation following a long-running lawsuit.

Last week approximately 420 trade unionists secured damages from major construction firms after launching legal action four years ago. The out of course settlement was reached by lawyers acting for the Blacklist Support Group and the unions GMB and UCATT. It brings to more than 600 the number of workers who have received compensation after their names appeared on a construction industry financed and run Consulting Association blacklist.

The amount of compensation has not been disclosed but, according to campaigners, could exceed £50m. It has been previously disclosed that some blacklisted workers have been awarded damages ranging from £25,000 to £200,000.

Steve Acheson, a blacklisted electrician from Manchester who chairs the union-backed Blacklist Support Group, commented: “Seven years ago when the files were discovered these firms denied everything and offered us nothing. Two years ago, their misnamed compensation scheme offered most people £1,000. These wretches have now been forced to pay out millions in compensation, as well as legal bills for four sets of lawyers. That’s a big kick in the profit margin.”

He added: “The construction firms may ‘wish to draw a line under this matter’ but for blacklisted workers this is still unfinished business. Until such time that the full conspiracy is exposed and those responsible for the human rights abuse are called to account in a court of law, we will never stop fighting.”

The claims were brought against Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci, who all paid for and used the blacklisting services provided by the Consulting Association.

Unite is continuing its High Court blacklisting case against the construction firms on behalf of 90 members.

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Blacklisting exposes Trade Union Bill’s folly

Britain’s blacklisting scandal, which saw thousands of construction union reps victimised or denied work for raising safety concerns, provides ‘clear proof’ of the dangers posed by the government’s Trade Union Bill.

TUC head of safety, Hugh Robertson, says the first tranche of compensation settlements – amounting to £5.6m shared between 71 workers – “are no recompense for the thousands of ruined lives that resulted from the illegal actions of these companies, but they do show the importance of being in a union.”

Writing in the Left Foot Forward blog, he noted: “Without the support that the GMB, Unite and UCATT gave and the work they did with the incredible Blacklist Support Group, the workers would have either received nothing, or, at the very least, some token amount.” He said more cases were due before the High Court in May, but added: “Of course it is more than just about money.

The unions also want to protect future workers, which is why they are pushing for a full inquiry into blacklisting and strong laws to make sure that this scandal is never repeated. The Trade Union Bill is an attempt to stop us doing that by making it harder for us to recruit and represent members, campaign, and strike.”

He warned that the Bill would give the Certification Officer new powers to investigate membership records, even where no complaints have been made. “This all raises concerns about the confidentiality of union membership and activism,” Robertson notes.

“The blacklisting scandal is clear proof of why we need trade unions. Workers need them to ensure they are protected and, when things go wrong, to fight for their rights against employers, through the courts and to campaign for action from governments.

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‘Guilty as sin’ site firms try to buy silence

Victims of a construction industry blacklist which targeted union safety activists have been awarded up to £200,000 compensation for having their working lives blighted.

The Mirror reports that so far 71 former bricklayers and carpenters have received “full and final settlements” worth £5.6m from major construction companies. Payouts averaged £80,000 each, but some were as high as £200,000 to compensate workers for years when they were denied employment because they were illegally on a secret blacklist. Many were denied work on construction sites for raising health and safety issues, trade union activity or had been branded “troublemakers.”

The construction union UCATT, which was fighting a legal battle for compensation for the workers, said the deal was a “first significant milestone” for blacklisted workers. Other cases involving hundreds of blacklisted workers are pending with the backing of the unions Unite and GMB, and the Blacklist Support Group, as well as UCATT. The defendants – Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci plc – are due in court in May.

Brian Rye, UCATT’s acting general secretary, said: “This initial tranche of compensation is the first significant milestone in the battle to win justice for blacklisted workers.”

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group said many workers wanted the blacklisting firms to face the courts. He said the industry giants “know they are guilty as sin and are desperate to protect their corporate brand. But the millions they will be ordered to pay by the High Court will be dwarfed by the potential billions they could lose out on if banned from government and local authority contracts across Europe.”

He added: “By covertly targeting union safety reps, these companies appear to have given themselves a competitive advantage, as implementing proper health and safety measures on major projects has obvious financial consequences. Blacklisting is a human rights scandal but it might also be viewed as a secret cartel. I’m looking forward to the trial in May.”

Labour’s John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, commented in a statement: “The blacklisting of workers in the construction industry who raised concerns about safety is a national scandal. Those companies that caused untold suffering to thousands of honest hard working families are the unacceptable face of capitalism.

“Labour will do everything in our power to ensure that taxpayers’ money is only given to companies with the highest ethical standards by ensuring that public contracts are not awarded to companies involved in serious human rights violations.”

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Site firms ordered to release blacklisting information

A High Court judge has ordered 30 construction firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty, to disclose all emails and correspondence linked to blacklisting of union reps and safety activists.

The ruling came at the end of a two-day hearing last week where it emerged that documents had been destroyed relating to firms’ involvement with the illegal covert blacklister, the industry-controlled and financed Consulting Association. Firms and four individuals will now have to carry out costly searches of back-up computer tapes of emails to disclose any relevant information by 12 February. The court also ruled that contractors must pay costs for the hearing, estimated at up to £100,000.

The union-backed High Court hearing is part of ongoing legal action on behalf of 168 blacklisted workers. It follows last October’s unprecedented admission of guilt by construction firms.

Howard Beckett director of legal services with the union Unite, commented: “Despite admitting their guilt, it is shameful the lengths that some of the construction firms involved in blacklisting have gone to cover up their involvement.” He added that the “stain of blacklisting” would not be fully removed “until there is a full public inquiry and the livelihoods of the blacklisted is restored by the firms involved giving them a permanent job.”

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group, whose members are also party to the court case, said: “All of the platitudes and half apologies, all their crocodile tears and claims of rogue managers from the companies over the past six or seven years are clearly nonsense. Documents have been destroyed and directors of multinational companies are hiding stuff on their laptops.”

The former UCATT safety rep and blacklisted worker added: “It calls into question all of the promises made to Parliament and the High Court. I am not a lawyer but I would have thought that destroying evidence that would almost certainly have been used in a court case might be considered perverting the course of justice.”

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Carillion apologises for blacklisting – then chases blacklisted worker for legal costs

Troubled construction giant Carillion has been branded a hypocrite after claiming thousands of pounds of legal costs from a blacklisted worker only days after issuing an unreserved apology in the High Court.

Carillion is one of the eight multinational building contractors that this month issued “a full and unreserved apology” for their role in blacklisting of union members in the construction industry, claiming to “recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families”.

The submission to the High Court on behalf of Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci,  accepted that construction companies had provided much the information used by the covert blacklister The Consulting Association and had used it to vet workers seeking employment.

The statement went as far as stating “ever since the closure of The Consulting Association in 2009, we have been focused on trying to do the right thing by affected workers”.

Yet only days after the apology, lawyers Clarkslegal acting on behalf of Carillion submitted a claim for £3,500 worth of legal costs against blacklisted worker Dave Smith. The legal costs relate to a submission made by Carillion arguing that Smith should not be allowed to have his blacklisting claim heard in the UK Supreme Court and include charges of £600 for one hour’s work from John Bowers QC.

Smith’s legal test-case generated considerable publicity after the company admitted that their senior managers had supplied information to the notorious Consulting Association blacklist about the engineer because of his trade union activities after he had raised concerns about health and safety on a number of their projects.

The original employment tribunal was even told the name of the senior manager who provided the information: John Ball, former head of industrial relations for Carillion based at their Wolverhampton head office. Ball had previously held the same role for Tarmac in the very same office before the company name change and in his official capacity was one of the founding members of the Consulting Association.

Yet Smith still lost his test-case because as an agency worker he was not protected by UK employment law, which only covers direct employees.  Smith requested to have his case heard at the Supreme Court but this was refused and Carillion is claiming their legal costs for sending a written submission on this issue. Carillion have previously claimed £7,500 from the blacklisted agency worker after the Court of Appeal hearing.

Declan Owens, solicitor representing Dave Smith, commented: “The legal team were surprised that Carillion pursued Dave Smith for the costs of the Supreme Court application. Nevertheless, they have always been aware of the restrictive interpretation of the British courts when they consider the nature of the employment relationship between agency workers and employers. Therefore, they are confident that an application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg alleging a failure of the UK government to uphold Mr Smith’s right to privacy and his freedom of association under Articles 8 and 11 European Convention on Human Rights will succeed and vindicate him for the injustice he has suffered through blacklisting by Carillion”. 

In a move seemingly at odds with its ‘unreserved apology’, Carillion has posted a carefully worded section on their website that singles out Dave Smith and accuses him of be involved in “unlawful” activities – although absolutely no evidence is presented for this and no action was taken by either the police or Carillion at the time.

Dave Smith commented: “How much is a blacklisting apology from Carillion worth? They have admitted their guilt to the High Court for their involvement in blacklisting in general. They have told an employment tribunal which of their managers added information to my blacklist file. They continue to make completely unsubstantiated accusations about me using all the resources available to them as a multinational corporation. 

“I am an ex-construction worker who tried to improve safety on building sites but was forced to leave the industry because of their managers’ active involvement in blacklisting. Their apology isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. I hope public authorities around the world ban them and the other blacklisting wretches from all public contracts for their human right violations. 

“Carillion claim to want to do the right thing. Over the years, these people have sacked me, blacklisted me, fought me in the courts and bad mouthed me on their corporate website all because I tried to improve safety for my fellow workers. But now I have to pay over 3 grand for the privilege. That’s some apology! 

“I have no intention of paying a penny towards the legal costs of these money grabbing hypocrites. If they want their blood money, they will have to come after it.”

In the test-case Smith v Carillion (JM) Ltd, Dave Smith was represented by John Hendy QC, David Renton (counsel) and Declan Owens (solicitor) via the Free Representation Unit.

The next hearings for the High Court blacklisting group litigation is December 7-8th 2015. The full trial is still scheduled to last 10 weeks starting in May 2016.

In recent weeks, there have been major protests disrupting city centre rush hour traffic against Carillion in Liverpool due to claims of ongoing blacklisting at the Royal Liverpool Hospital.

  • Dave Smith is the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, author of the book Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and union activists. Last week he gave evidence to MPs at the committee stage of the Trade Union Bill warning about the possibility of a state sponsored blacklist, alongside Amnesty International and Liberty.
  • Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and trade union activists, New Internationalist, March 2015. ISBN 978-1-78026-257-4. eBook ISBN: 978-1-78026-258-1. £9.99

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Blacklisted workers apply for ‘core participant’ status in government-ordered undercover policing inquiry

The Blacklist Support Group (BSG) is applying to the Home Office for ‘core participant’ status in the Pitchford public inquiry into failures in undercover policing set up by Teresa May.  This follows claims in the book ‘Blacklisted’ by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, that undercover police officers spied on trade union activists from the construction industry and intelligence gathered was passed onto big business – resulting in blacklisting of union activists.

Imran Khan & Partners solicitors are representing BSG. The firm is also representing Doreen Lawrence in the Pitchford Inquiry.

BSG says it is the only organisation to have officially complained to the IPCC over police collusion in the Consulting Association blacklist scandal. IPCC admitted in correspondence with BSG that  “every Special Branch in the country routinely supplied information about prospective employees’ in correspondence from the police watchdog.”

As a ‘core participant’ in the Pitchford inquiry, the BSG would be part of a central group of parties entitled to some input into the remit and to see the evidence before it is put into the public domain.

BSG says has established a number of individuals on the construction industry blacklist were spied on by undercover police officers from different units, including the “notorious” Special Demonstration Squad. The undercover officers identified include Bob Lambert, Mark Kennedy, John Dines, Mark Jenner and former undercover police officer turned whistleblower, Peter Francis. In an interview published in ‘Blacklisted’, Peter Francis admitted targeting prominent union activists from the construction industry.

Special Demonstration Squad undercover officer Mark Jenner, became a member of UCATT under his false name during his deployment and was a regular visitor to picket lines and meetings in London during the late 1990s.

BSG says one high ranking police officer, DCI Gordon Mills from the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), attended meetings and gave a PowerPoint presentation to the illegal blacklisting body Consulting Association. According to ‘Blacklisted’ there was a two way exchange of information between the police unit and the covert blacklister.

Dave Smith, BSG secretary and a victim of undercover police surveillance, said: “Hopefully by the BSG applying for core participant status, we will be able to guarantee that spying on trade unions and passing over information to private companies becomes a theme within the Pitchford inquiry. Police and security services spying on trade unions is not a one off aberration, it is standard operating procedure by the state.”

He added: “Undercover police units and security services were involved in operations against trade unions at Grunwick, Shrewsbury, Wapping and during the Miner Strike. It is known that activists and officers from UCATT, Unite, RMT, FBU, UNISON, CWU, NUT and PCS have been targeted by undercover police units.

“BSG hope that all the unions affected come together and put in a joint submission to Pitchford, probably under the umbrella of the TUC. Official pressure from France’s O’Grady and other general secretaries could have a significant influence on the scope of the Inquiry.”

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High Court hears blacklist firms destroyed evidence

There was stunned silence followed by audible gasps in the High Court when a barrister read out documentary evidence indicating that major  firms had deliberately set out to destroy evidence of their complicity in a blacklisting conspiracy.

In a case that returned to the courts in May 2015, unions UNITE, UCATT and GMB and the law firm Guney, Clark and Ryan, acting for the Blacklist Support Group, are representing 581 blacklisted union members in ‘group litigation’ against 40 of the UK’s largest construction firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier, Costain, Laing O’Rourke, Vinci, Skanska and Bam.

On 15 May 2015 a procedural hearing considered case management issues. The hearing was to prepare the ground for the full trial, scheduled for 16 May 2016 and set to last 10 weeks. The Blacklist Support Group says that with directors of multinational firms and former undercover police officers set to give evidence, “this will turn into a show trial for the construction industry.”

The latest hearing considered disclosure of documents to be used in the trial. The firms have repeatedly denied holding documents relating to the illegal Consulting Association blacklist, despite invoices proving that directors of the companies attending quarterly meetings from 1993-2009. Legal representatives of the firms told the court that to search for the relevant documentation would cost them £27 million and that they had already provided a list of the documents found on their computers.

But Matthew Nicklin QC, representing blacklisted UCATT members, told the court that the  limited disclosure by the firms was “worse than useless”, adding that the firms were being deliberately obstructive.

He then read from an internal Consulting Association record (above) that claimed David Cochrane, director of human resources at Sir Robert McAlpine and chair of the Consulting Association when it was raided in 2009, instructed the covert blacklister’s chief executive Ian Kerr to destroy blacklisting documents and to ring round others to tell them to do the same.

The document was a hand written record made by Ian Kerr of a series of conversations he had with senior industry figures immediately after the Information Commissioner’s Office served its warrant. The note read to the High Court stated that David Cochrane told Ian Kerr: “Ring everyone – Cease trading – Close down – We don’t exist anymore – Destroy data – Stop Processing.”

The note also records details of conversations with other senior construction industry managers who say they have already destroyed the documents they held.

Roy Bentham, a blacklisted joiner from Liverpool and member of the Blacklist Support Group, said: “The wheels of justice turn painfully slow but we now have a date for the full trial.” He added: “I look forward to seeing those captains of industry being questioned about their illegal blacklist with ruined so many lives.”

Dave Smith, BSG secretary, said: “We have repeatedly called for jail sentences for these wretches who violated our human rights. If the destruction of documentary evidence is proved in court, those responsible should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice and be sent to prison. That would be real justice.”

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