Skanska’s desperate ruse to evade blacklist blame

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.
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Blacklisting fallout continues

Colin Trousdale blacklisting 

Nearly 10 months after it was confirmed by the Information Commissioner that blacklisting in the construction industry was rife, something common knowledge for decades among trade union reps in the sector, new laws outlawing the practice are in preparation and on 24 November 23 of its victims featured on the blacklist will start their tribunal cases.

But for electricians such as Colin Trousdale (above) it doesn’t mean the scandal is over. The cover story on the 21 November issue of The Guardian’s Work section reports Trousdale, 51, now has copies of his file after the ICO investigation.

The six-page document opens in 2006, shortly before he launched an unsuccessful employment tribunal claim for being blacklisted. The last entry is October 2008.

However Trousdale says that since last December he’s only had eight weeks’ work.

“I can only think that because I’ve raised health and safety concerns – and remember this is an industry in which 53 people died last year – I’m affecting profits and they don’t want me doing that,” he told the paper.

According to the government, the likes of Trousdale should get better protection from new laws due before Christmas. Draft laws have already been the subject of a consultation and do not have to be debated and once published, can be signed into law by the business secretary, Lord Mandelson.
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Bereaved families support blacklist protest

Campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) is backing the campaign against blacklisting of workers for their safety and trade union activity.

A FACK spokesperson said members of the group would join protesters outside a 24 November employment tribunal case in Manchester, where cases against major construction firms, brought by 23 blacklisted construction workers, are to be heard.

She said: “Members of FACK know from our own personal loss, that poor safety on sites puts workers lives at risk and we totally condemn employers who sack, victimise, blacklist or otherwise mistreat workers and trade union safety reps when they complain about risks to their lives and health.

“If employers had responded by improving health and safety, complying with at least minimum legal standards, many of our sons, husbands, brothers and others would still be alive today. It is amazing that in the UK it is not yet illegal to blacklist workers and that the HSE does not react strongly to support workers who stand up to criminal employers by taking enforcement action against them.”

The FACK spokesperson added: “Many of those killed by negligent employers have complained to their families about the poor health and safety they face on site and how they fear for their lives, many were about to leave for other jobs when they were killed.

“Until the government and the health and safety enforcement agencies get tough with criminal employers in construction and other areas, they have licence to go on killing workers, risking workers lives and health and destroying the working livelihoods of those they blacklist and victimise.

“We depend on those brave enough to stand up for our health and safety, what a disgrace we don’t have a government or Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that will do the same.”

UCATT protests against the blacklist

Construction union UCATT will hold a demonstration in support of victims of blacklisting outside of Manchester Employment Tribunal on 24 November. The tribunal will be hearing the initial cases of blacklisted construction workers.

UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: “Hundreds of construction workers had their lives ruined by the blacklisters. Many of them were forced out of the construction industry. This is the first opportunity workers have had to win justice from the construction companies who blacklisted them.”

The union says “much of the information contained on the blacklist related to a worker’s union membership. In particular workers who had taken on the role of a health and safety representative or had been a whistleblower on dangerous sites were targeted.”

George Guy, regional secretary for UCATT’s north-west region, said: “A large number of UCATT’s activists in the North West were blacklisted, these workers deserve justice. Everyone involved in blacklisting must be brought to book.”

The union says because of the absence of an explicit blacklisting law, Ian Kerr, the boss of blacklisting organisation The Consulting Association, was charged with data protection offences.

The former Special Branch officer pleaded guilty and was fined £5,000, a penalty described by the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham “as simply inappropriate”.

He added: “Here’s a blatant example of a business making a lot of money by trading in people’s data, which I believe parliament could stop if we activated a custodial sentence for the worst offenders.”

* Protest: 9.30am, Tuesday 24 November, Manchester Employment Tribunal, Alexandra House, 14-22 Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA.

Fighting the blacklist, Manchester, 23 November

Fighting the Blacklist
Blacklisted workers are fighting back

 7.00pm, Monday 23 November, Mechanic’s Institute, 103 Princess Street, Manchester M1 6DD (entrance Major Street)

Speakers from the Blacklist Support Group

This meeting is being organised on the eve of a Case Management Discussion at the Manchester Employment Tribunal, Parsonage Gardens, involving a large number of cases on Tuesday 24 November. All welcome.

For more information contact 07792 358697

 Supported by Manchester TUC

The Wizard of Organising

Blacklisting has been around a long time, as top US investigative journalist Amy Goodman points out on the Truthdig blog.

The Wizard of Oz, written 70 years ago during the Great Depression by Oscar-winning lyricist EY ‘Yip’ Harburg, had a serious political message woven into the lyrics. It was part of body of work that was to guarantee he was blacklisted in the McCarthy era.

Harburg grew up in poverty and was deep in debt after the 1929 Wall Street crash. Then he penned the song “that captured the essence of the Great Depression, ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’”, writes Goodman.

The Wizard of Oz picked up the theme, recalls Yip’s son, Ernie Harburg, with the storyline about people confronting and defeating seemingly insurmountable and violent oppression. The Scarecrow represented farmers, the Tin Man stood for the factory workers, and the Munchkins of the “Lollipop Guild” were the union members.

Other work kept up the lyrical assault on oppression, writes Goodman. ‘Finian’s Rainbow’, a Broadway hit, addresses racial bigotry, hatred of immigrants, easy credit and mortgage foreclosures and in 1947 was the first Broadway musical with an integrated cast.

Goodman notes: “When Harburg’s unabashed political expression made him a target during the McCarthy era, he was blacklisted, and was banned from TV and film work from 1951 to 1962.”

In response to his blacklisting, Harburg wrote a satiric poem, which reads in part:

Lives of great men all remind us
Greatness takes no easy way,
All the heroes of tomorrow 
Are the heretics of today.


Why do great men all remind us
We can write our names on high
And departing leave behind us
Thumbprints in the FBI.

Goodman concludes: “Let’s give thanks to Yip Harburg and all heretical artists, past and present, who have withstood censorship and banishment just for talking turkey.”

RMT members were on the blacklist too

Members of a third trade union have been revealed as being victims of the infamous construction industry blacklist.

In February, officials of the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the Consulting Association. They discovered secret files on some 3,200 workers in the construction industry which had been maintained on behalf of building firms for vetting purposes.

A report in Tribune magazine says of the 238 files released so far, most have been on members of the UCATT and Unite unions – but now it turns out that some RMT members were blacklisted as well.

Steve Hedley, an RMT official, obtained his 15-page file which records how he was sacked from working on the Channel Tunnel project – and couldn’t get work for three months afterwards. He said: “There is also reference to a general RMT file and other individual RMT members have received their files.”

The news comes as the first employment tribunal hearings arising from the blacklisting scandal reach court. Some 23 different workers have filed around 80 different cases against the biggest names in the construction industry.

The tribunals will be heard together and an initial case management discussion takes place on 24 November in Manchester. This will help decide the scope and the timings of the hearings.

Those bringing the case are planning a demonstration to coincide with the hearing. Meanwhile, the government says that it plans to introduce new rules outlawing blacklisting “as soon as possible”.

DEMONSTRATE! Earlier rumours that the employment tribunal hearing commencing on 24 November in Manchester will not allow access to member of the public are unfounded, the Blacklist Support Group has said. It says members of the Press and public are allowed into the hearing and should be encouraged to attend.