Building firm Skanska, the construction giant that last year ran up the largest single bill for use of The Consulting Association’s blacklisting services, has resorted to a novel defence of the illegal practice. It claims it used the blacklist of construction workers to vet employees for a history of violence and drug or alcohol abuse – a claim dismissed out of hand by those who have obtained their files.
Harvey Francis, executive vice-president for human resources (HR), told People Management magazine that it had subscribed to the list, which contained confidential details of 3,213 construction workers, “to ensure the safety of people working on our sites” – not to blacklist people on the grounds of trade union membership as reported in the press.
“Health and safety in construction is of paramount importance,” he said. “While I’m not excusing [using the blacklist], this was also a way of trying to keep the sites safe.”
Francis said Skanska had “taken every possible step” to ensure the practice was abolished at the firm, which has 5,500 UK staff, beginning with an internal investigation led by HR. This revealed that Skanska, which was invoiced more than £20,000 in 2008 by the Consulting Association, “inadvertently inherited” use of the service through company acquisitions.
Francis, who joined the company two years ago and took up his role as HR chief a year later, said about 30 HR and line managers who had “potential for involvement” were interviewed for the three-month investigation, but no one had lost their job as a result.
“This all happened in the past so instead of turning it into a witch hunt, we decided to take a much more future-focused approach to make sure it never happened again,” he said.
The claims have been met with incredulity by blacklisted construction workers. Files seen by the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) do not include any mention of workers alcohol or drug use or evidence of violence. Instead they focus on trade union activity, particularly where workers have complained or taken action about site safety conditions.
Nor was Skanska just a passive recipient of information. Files obtained by BSG include information submitted to The Consulting Association by Skanska. The information was entirely related to trade union activity and raising safety concerns on site.
Francis indicated the damage to the company’s reputation had been limited because it had been a sector-wide problem. “I’m not saying that in order to explain away our behaviour because clearly it was wrong but the fact is that it was an industry issue,” he said, adding that Skanska had “good and co-operative” relationships with construction unions.