More than half of the country’s leading construction firms were still using The Consulting Association’s illegal covert blacklisting service when it was shut down in 2009, paying a £3,000-a-year subscription plus £2.20 for each blacklist check. Major firms, called to appear before an ongoing Scottish Affairs select committee inquiry into blacklisting, have admitted they used blacklisting services in the past. But they all say it is a practice they no longer support.
But we’ve been here before, reports Hazards magazine. In the 1980s, the Economic League – the blacklisting predecessor of The Consulting Association – was the subject of campaigns by grassroots groups including the Construction Safety Campaign. Employers denied then the existence of the organisation or blacklisting.
Following a parliamentary inquiry in 1990, The Economic League’s activities were exposed and in 1993 the discredited organisation shut up shop.
But it didn’t disappear entirely. Instead, two daughter organisations, TCA and Caprim Ltd, emerged, both supported by UK construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine and both headed by former employees of the Economic League. TCA specialised in surveillance of construction workers, but activists in associated industries, including rail and offshore, as well as environmental campaigners, were also in its crosshairs.
Caprim – which folded voluntarily in 2009 following the TCA closure – had different priorities, briefing firms in the agrochemical, arms and pharmaceutical industries. Clients included Monsanto, Glaxo-Smith Kline, Rhone Poulenc, Rio-Tinto and JP Morgan.
In recent months, the former heads of both blacklisters, Jack Winder at Caprim and Ian Kerr at TCA, admitted at the select committee to liaising regularly with senior police officers.
The Blacklist Support Group (BSG), formed in 2009 after TCA’s activities were exposed (Hazards 107), is spearheading legal actions to get compensation for affected workers and to get a formal investigation into the practice, including complicity by the police with illegal blacklisting organisations. Its campaign, which has gained national prominence and is now backed by the Labour Party leadership and trade unions, is ensuring the issue doesn’t go away.
BSG says recent experiences with the London Olympics and the Crossrail project – which TCA’s Ian Kerr confirmed in 2012 had used its services – mean it is not going to be taken in by a second round of assurances by the government and former blacklist users that the practice had been discontinued.
Even the industry concedes the blacklist was used on recent major projects. Following a similar admission by Balfour Beatty’s top brass, Sir Robert McAlpine director Cullum McAlpine told MPs at a hearing of the select committee on 22 January 2013 that his firm had used TCA’s services to vet Olympics site workers.