Prime Minister David Cameron was recently interviewed by award winning journalist Adam Smith – author of ‘Obama and Me’ – and was asked about the blacklisting in the construction industry. The exchange was illuminating.
Adam Smith “With the blacklisting scandal affecting over 3,000 people up and down the country is it not time for a public inquiry?”
David Cameron “What is needed to make sure we exercise the legislation that is now in place, this is something that happened under the last government and now there is now legislation in place to stop illegal blacklisting.”
Adam Smith “So you don’t think there should be a public inquiry?”
David Cameron “As I say I think enforcing the law that we have now is the most important thing.”
Commenting on this confirmation the prime minister is personally opposed to a blacklisting public inquiry, Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith said: “Blacklisting is a national scandal akin to McCarthyism. There is documentary proof of police and security services collusion with the Consulting Association and lawyers for the UK government have recently admitted that blacklisting was a breach of human rights.
“Blacklisting of trade unionists is no longer an industrial relations issue; it is a major human rights conspiracy between multinational corporations and the state. Despite all this, David Cameron has said ‘no’ to a public inquiry.”
Dave Smith added: “Blacklisting is working class phone-hacking. Only a fully independent public inquiry will get to the truth of the blacklisting human rights scandal and expose all the corporate and state spying on trade unionists who raised concerns about safety issues: UK citizens participating in perfectly peaceful democratic activities.
“It is not surprising that a Conservative prime minister funded by big business does not want a public inquiry. But that is what blacklisted workers, their unions and the TUC are calling for.
“Ed Miliband could demonstrate he supports working people against predatory capitalism by committing a future Labour government to a full public inquiry into blacklisting with be an election pledge in the manifesto.”
Bosses from blacklist companies were humiliated during a packed 16 July 2014 witness session for a parliamentary Select Committee when MPs repeatedly accused them of setting out to “deliberately mislead parliament”.
The Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation into blacklisting heard evidence from Nick Pollard, chief executive of Balfour Beatty, Andrew Ridley-Barker, managing director of Vinci Construction and Callum Tuckett, group finance and commercial director at Laing O’Rourke plus Richard Slaven, partner at Pinsent mason solicitors and Richard Duke from the PR company Grayling.
Conservative MP Simon Reevell condemned the letter sent by the industry’s hired spin doctor Richard Dukes on behalf of the blacklist compensation scheme which he said was “intended to mislead every member of parliament” by claiming falsely that unions and representatives of blacklisted workers supported the scheme.
Labour MP Jim McGovern told the industry bosses point blankly that they had “misled this committee and misled parliament.”
MPs identified that Vinci, Laing O’Rourke and Balfour Beatty companies had paid in excess of £335,000 to the Consulting Association which equated to approximately 200,000 name checks on construction workers. 600 workers had either been denied employment or had personal information information added to the blacklist database by the 3 firms or their predecessor companies.
The construction bosses were continually ridiculed and interrupted by Labour, Liberal and Conservative MPs alike who refused to accepted their grovelling apologies for their role in the Consulting Association blacklisting scandal with Select Committee chair Ian Davidson accusing the scheme of being “purely damage limitation” rather than a genuine desire to show “repentance.”
The levels of compensation being offered by the scheme were also forensically taken apart by MPs and Richard Slaven, partner at law firm Pinsent Mason was forced to admit that he could not quote a single authority to justify the pitifully low figures being offered by the blacklist firms who MPs identified as having a combined annual turnover of £34 billion. Slaven was accused of being “not exactly razor sharp” by former barrister Simon Reevell.
The MPs suggested a number of changes that the firms said they would go back and consider including extending the schemes period to three years to allow for the High Court trial to conclude before workers needed to make a decision.
Ian Davidson again repeated his suggestion that the compensation scheme that had been condemned by the Blacklist Support Group and trade unions should exist to provide “interim damages” which would be increased once the High Court trial finished. The MPs stated that unless the scheme was drastically improved and the firms showed real attempts to clean up their acts that they should “be denied access to future public contracts.”
Cullum McAlpine was the leader of a shadowy band of construction industry grandees that owned and bankrolled a covert operation that illegally blacklisted union safety activists. He never faced charges – until the Blacklist Support Group turned up at the London HQ of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd with an arrest warrant.
Read the full Hazards magazine report.
On 1February 2014, a National Rank and File meeting was held in Glasgow. One of the guest speakers was Louise Taggart from the Scottish Hazards and FACK (Families Against Corporate Killers) campaigns who gave a really moving health and safety presentation around fatalities in the workplace. She spoke in detail about her own personal experience of when her brother who was an electrician was electrocuted and killed at his work and how it affected her family.
I don’t think that there was anyone in the room, full of tough construction workers, that wasn’t moved by Louise’s experience. This has inspired me to write this article about my own experience of a fatal industrial accident and how it has affected me and my family for almost 30 years.
My story starts way back on 5 July 1984, a really hot summer’s day, but a day which was to become one that would haunt my family forever. Kenneth Hume, my dad, was an electrician who worked for SSEB (Scottish Power). He served his time with them and was an experienced 29-year-old operative.
I vaguely remember him being on call or standby a lot of the time and having to go out through the night to deal with faults and issues throughout the area, but on this particular day he was carrying out maintenance at Gartcosh Substation in Lanarkshire which was around three miles or so from where we lived. My dad took the opportunity, as he was working so close to home, to come home and have lunch at my gran’s and spend some time with myself and my brother Scott. We had only just celebrated Scott’s second birthday a few days previously.
When it was time for my dad to go back to work, I remember asking him to give me a lift to my friend’s house just around the corner in his Ford Transit. I was obsessed with his van and in particular his tool chest in the back which had a photograph of a chimpanzee on the lid, I would often ask to go out to the van to see the chimp, these are the sort of things that interested me at 4-year-old I guess.
Dad told me that he couldn’t give me a lift, I can’t quite remember if it was because he was in a hurry to get back or if it was because he wasn’t insured to have me travelling in the van, but in any case, being a child I threw a tantrum because I wasn’t getting my own way and the words that came out my mouth next, are words that I have wished I could take back for nearly 30 years… “I hate you!” I know my dad would not have taken it to heart and would know that I was just acting like a spoiled brat, but it tears me up that those are the last words I would ever say to him.
Later in the afternoon the sound of sirens could be heard heading towards Gartcosh. I remember years later my mum saying that she got a really horrible feeling when she heard them, however not knowing or even thinking at the time that she was to become a widow with two young sons. The sirens were heading for Gartcosh because my dad had been electrocuted.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about the actual incident, mainly because I still don’t have the full details and because I want this article to focus on the how my family was affected in the aftermath. The reason for this being that the files relating to the Fatal Accident Inquiry were to be kept with a lawyer, with an instruction for myself and Scott to receive them when we were old enough to handle the details contained within them. These files were destroyed without permission and we have never seen them.
Part of the reason I became an electrician was to try and understand how electricity works and maybe understand what caused my dad’s death. You can imagine how my mum took the news about my career choice, initially she found it quite difficult but I reassured her that I wasn’t going to be working in the high voltage side of things.
My brother is also a spark and I often think about how things could have been very different as mum used to tell me that my dad’s dream was to have his own electrical business someday. Maybe dad would have tried to direct Scott and myself down another career path or would he have supported our career choice to make it a family business? Something we will never know.
I remember mum being very upset at times after my dad’s death, I can only assume that the only reason she carried on was because of Scott and me. The police asking very personal questions about her marriage, my dad’s state of mind, if he had been drinking etc. I know they were only doing their job but the timing wasn’t appropriate and the press were turning up at the house as well and my gran having to chase them off the doorstep were all putting strain on my mum as she started the grieving process.
I also think about my grandparents whom had already lost a son in a tragic accident. My dad’s eldest brother William had been killed in a road accident at 13-years-old. I really don’t know where they got the strength from to hold it together.
I wasn’t at dad’s funeral as mum felt I was too young, but everyone always tells me that there was a queue of cars behind the hearse that stretched through all the streets of the estate where we lived. That comforts me to know how much my dad was loved by family, friends and workmates. I suppose the funerals of young people are always well attended as it is such a shock that a life is cut short so prematurely.
Now that I am a parent myself with a daughter Jorja and a son whom we named after my dad, it really hits home to me all the things that my dad missed out on as Scott and me grew up. All the advice that we should have got from dad as well as the telling offs for all the crazy stuff we used to get up to as teenagers. Holidays, family gatherings, birthdays, nights out, being there for us when we had a problem, the list is endless.
I truly am grateful to my mum for giving us a fantastic upbringing under such tragic circumstances with help from friends and family. I really wish dad had been here to see his grandchildren, every time either of them do or say something new it makes me think about dad and all the joy that he has been robbed of and that Jorja and Kenneth have been robbed of a loving Papa. I hold every hour I spend with them precious as what I have learned from this is that you never know what is around the corner.
Only this morning [7 March], we had the tragic news of a worker killed in a tunnel on the Crossrail project in London. A 43-year-old man out earning to provide for himself and his family, won’t be returning home to them today. Unfortunately the way that Crossrail have handled the incident in the press, in my opinion, comes across as almost trying to make excuses and verging on justifying this poor man’s death by quoting their accident rate as “below the industry average”. It’s almost as if they are saying that they have done so well to get this far into the project without there being a fatality.
At this time my heart goes out to this man’s family and I can relate to how they must be feeling. This is “THE TRUE COST OF AN INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENT”, not the delay to a project, not the suspension of production, not the cost of an HSE investigation, not the cost of a Fatal Accident Inquiry, not the cost of expensive company lawyers, not the cost of the emergency services attending an incident and not the cost of compensation if there even is any.
The cost lies with the families left behind, the emotional and mental cost. No amount of money can take away the pain.
This is why on Monday 28April 2014 for International Workers’ Memorial Day, I ask that every worker in the country support the UK Hazards Campaign and fight like hell for our lives and health and that of our families and friends. All those killed simply for going to work to earn a living are not publicly remembered on any other day.
Social media should be put to great use to show support and Hazards Campaign has suggested using “Health and Selfies”. Take a photo of yourself holding a piece of card with ‘I Love Red Tape – it’s better than bloody bandages!’ then tweet your Health and Selfie to your own MP, to David Cameron, to DWP and BIS Ministers, to local press, etc. using the hashtags #HealthandSelfie and #IWMD14.
The campaign would like everyone to tweet the same slogan ‘I/We Love Red Tape – it’s better than bloody bandages’ #IWMD14 at least once, and then any other slogans you can make up that say what you think to support good health and safety regulation. Suggested slogans to hold in your Health and Selfie – which you can also use as tweets:
#HealthandSelfie I love red tape- it’s better than bloody bandages #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie I’d rather be wrapped in red tape than bloody bandages #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie I’m working for a living, not to die #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie I go to work to pay the bills, not to die #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie I go to work to support my children, not to die #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie I’m 2young2die@work so I love red tape #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie Don’t work me to death: Don’t cut health and safety #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie Work should be a means to an end, not the end #IWMD14
#HealthandSelfie No-one should die earning a living@work #IWMD14
#Healthand Selfie “Employers I’m (Joe Bloggs is) 2young2die@work Protect me with red tape at work!’ #IWMD14
#Healthand Selfie ‘Don’t work me to death’ #IWMD14
#Healthand Selfie ‘Prime Minister: we’d rather be wrapped in Red Tape than bloody bandages, stop deregulating health and safety law’ #IWMD14
#Healthand Selfie ‘I only work here, my family want me back safe at the end of my shift ’ #IWMD14
Good regulation and strong enforcement plus union safety reps make work safer#IWMD14
Please take part in International Workers Memorial Day, I know I will. I will be thinking of my dad in particular and I’ll have a photo of him and a slogan to suit for my “HealthandSelfie”
The damning 14 March 2014 report of the committee’s investigation into the blacklisting scandal says that just ending blacklisting is not enough. The committee says that firms caught blacklisting must undertake a process of “self-cleaning,” including an admission of guilt, paying full compensation and taking other appropriate remedial steps.
The MPs argue that monitoring and reporting procedures for health and safety, as well as a commitment to direct employment should be adopted as standard throughout for all publicly funded projects. The report notes: “There is a clear link between blacklisting and poor health and safety standards in the construction industry. Workers must be free to voice concerns about health and safety on sites, and union shop stewards play a key role in this.
“Evidence to our inquiry has clearly demonstrated that with union membership comes the risk of being blacklisted, particularly if the union member in question is responsible for raising health and safety issues with clients/contractors. As such we are concerned that protecting workers against blacklisting should not begin and end at the procurement and recruitment stage.
“There must be provisions in place to allow reporting of health and safety concerns, and processes to encourage workers to make use of these provisions and encourage an open culture.”
The report concludes: “It is essential that workers feel that they are able to report potentially life threatening health and safety concerns without fear. Adequate reporting systems are a vital part of preventing the threat to workers of blacklisting and ensuring a robust health and safety culture.”
Ian Davidson MP, chair of the select committee, said: “Had these companies not been caught, blacklisting would still be happening, and indeed we have heard evidence that it is still going on in some areas.
“Although blacklisting is illegal now, it is not enough to just end the practice. Reparations must be made, and steps must be taken so that we are pro-actively preventing these practices – and the health and safety problems they lead to – rather than just stopping it when it happens. Companies that are caught blacklisting now, or do not make the proper reparations, or do not apply agreed standards of practice in their contracts, should be ‘blacklisted’ themselves and barred from obtaining any publicly funded work.
“It is impossible to fully quantify the damage that may have been done to people’s careers and livelihoods, and to their families, as well as to health and safety on site, by these practices, but restitution must be made.
“It must not be left just to the companies themselves to determine what this should be, but it must be agreed after negotiations with the relevant trade unions and representatives of blacklisted workers. It must also be applied to all the victims of blacklisting who have yet to be identified, and where the victim has died, compensation must go to their families.
The committee chair paid tribute “to the activists of the Blacklist Support Group, who have fought over a long number of years to maintain this issue in the public eye and to seek recognition for the injustices experienced by so many working people.”
Steve Acheson, chair of the Blacklist Support Group said: “I would like to put on record, the heart felt appreciation of all blacklisted workers for the tremendous work done by MPs on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Honest hard working men and women have been denied the opportunity to provide for their families because we were members of a trade union or dared to raise concerns about health and safety on a building site.
“The companies involved have shown no contrition and even less recompense for their actions, most of the directors responsible for blacklisting are still in post. The MPs call for no publicly funded contracts for blacklisting firms may now concentrate their minds.”
He added: “This report vindicates the years of tireless campaigning that many trade unionists and supporters have carried out not just over the past five years since the secret blacklist was discovered but over decades. The report barely lifts the lid on this evil conspiracy and we will not stop our campaign until a fully independent public inquiry into all of the aspects of blacklisting are exposed and the guilty brought to justice.”
Statement from Dave Smith, Blacklist Support Group
It is with great sadness that we have heard the news that Mick Abbott has passed away.
Mick Abbott (pictured with Ricky Tomlinson) was a leftwing trade union activist in the building industry who fought for workers’ rights all his working life. The scaffolder from Wigan was a TGWU shop steward on many construction sites throughout the 1970s leading a number of disputes over safety and pay including during the construction of Fiddlers Ferry Power station in Warrington. While based at Sullom Voe in the Shetlands n 1979, Mick was part of the strike committee which organised 7000 offshore workers demanding better conditions.
Mick Abbott was a key campaigner for the release of the Shrewsbury Pickets at a time when the official leadership of the trade unions were looking the other way and was a co-signatory of an article in Workers Press that argued that “All unions with members in the building and construction industries must be forced to call indefinite strike action until Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson are released.”. He raised money for the families of the jailed union activists and in 1975 led a march by building workers from Wigan to London to protest against the miscarriage of justice. Following the release of Des Warren from prison, the pair became close friends at the time when Des was writing his iconic book, Key to my Cell about the Shrewsbury conspiracy.
Because he stood up for workers rights, Mick Abbott was blacklisted by the big building firms using the services of both the Economic League and the Consulting Association. Mick’s blacklist file starts fifty years ago in 1964 and an entry at the top of his file actually reads “On building industry blacklist”. His blacklist file records how he was repeatedly refused work by firms such as Tarmac, Bovis, Sir Robert Mcalpine and Fergus & Haynes. The Guardian newspaper ran a story on Mick in 2013 in which he is quoted as saying, “this nearly ruined my marriage and it meant my children were on free meals at school. My file goes back to 1964 and the last entry says that I rekindled the campaign for justice for the Shrewsbury pickets in 2006. They have been watching me all these years and passing this information around, blighting my life over four decades.”
Mick Abbott was an active member of the Blacklist Support Group, running stalls at our AGMs, attending early morning protests and court cases. In 2012, Mick had private discussions with MPs on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee about the impact that blacklisting had on his working life and family. Despite serious illness, Mick continued to campaign against the blacklisting of trade union members and for the Shrewsbury pickets until his death.
It is an honour to have known the man. Our thoughts go out to his brother Terry and his family at this sad time.
See Reel News coverage of the historic attempt to bring a self-confessed blacklister to justice.
The Blacklist Support Group has attempted to serve a Citizens Arrest Warrant on Callum McAlpine, first ever chair of covert and illegal blacklister the Consulting Association.
The attempted arrest on Friday 21 February – the fifth anniversary of the raid on the Consulting Association by the Information Commissioner’s Office – took place at the Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd London offices. Callum McAlpine admitted to a parliamentary select committee this was the venue for the first and subsequent Consulting Association meetings.
Blacklist Support Group members combed the corridors in an attempt to serve the notice. McAlpine staff claimed Callum McAlpine was not in the building. No senior figure from the company emerged to meet with the activists, who were attempting to enforce the law.
No director or senior manager has faced charges for what is a patent legal and human rights offence. Over a similar period, phone hacking of celebrities has led to a series of prosecutions, some of which are ongoing.
While the celebrity victims of phone hacking certainly suffered a criminal breach of privacy, blacklisted workers endured this and were denied work as a result. The consequences of the blacklist were usually devastating and sometime fatal.
A High Court judge had accepted a UCATT safety rep blacklisted for his safety activities was treated unjustly, but has no legal redress because he was an agency employee.
Dave Smith, a founder member of the Blacklist Support Group, was repeatedly dismissed and refused work after his name appeared on The Consulting Association (TCA) blacklist. A large file held by the organisation itemises concerns raised by the safety rep about asbestos, poor toilet facilities and contaminated waste on London and Essex building sites controlled by Carillion companies.
The original employment tribunal case rejected his claim because he was an agency worker and not directly employed by Carillion. This was upheld by an Employment Appeal Tribunal.
In a ruling issued on 17 January 2014, High Court judge Mrs Justice Slade DBE said that UK employment law does not protect agency workers. The judge did however identify human rights violations and expressed concern that Smith, the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, had “suffered an injustice from blacklisting”.
Mowlem, the construction firm taken over by Carillion that ran the sites, was a contributor to The Consulting Association.
Dave Smith said he planned to appeal. “Being a union member is not against the law. Raising concerns about asbestos is not against the law. But despite mountains of documentary evidence proving that construction firms were systematically blacklisting union members who questioned safety standards, it seems that big business are above the law.”
He added: “Blacklisting is a violation of human rights. We intend to fight this all the way to Europe until we achieve justice. My heroic legal team are already preparing our appeal.”
First the construction firms denied they’d done it. Then the government refused to investigate it. And the privacy watchdog said it would not alert the victims. But a massive mobilisation of unions and campaigners against blacklisting of safety activists has forced a dramatic about face and made justice for victimised workers a genuine possibility.
Statement from Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party 20 November 2013
“Trade unionists and other campaigners have worked tirelessly to keep the scandal of blacklisting in the public eye.
“And I want to pay tribute to the work of Ian Davidson and the Scottish Affairs Select Committee who have done so much to expose what has been happening.
“The connection between growth and living standards has been broken. Rebuilding that link has to be our priority.
“In the last few months Labour has set out a new agenda for Britain – tackling the abuse of zero-hours contracts, building thousands of new homes every year, dealing with low pay through the living wage and strengthening the minimum wage, securing the future of our NHS and addressing the cost of living crisis that affects millions.
“That’s because to make Britain better we have got to win a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.
“Blacklisting is about a race to the bottom: lower standards, insecurity at work, fewer rights and worse conditions.
“My message today is that the government must now end its refusal to act and hold the inquiry into blacklisting that common sense and decency demand.”