Construction unions from around the world have backed proposals to stamp out blacklisting wherever it occurs. The decision was taken last week by the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), the global federation of construction unions, at its conference in Lille, France.
The union representatives supported overwhelmingly an emergency motion proposed by UK site union UCATT. UCATT’s motion mandates the leadership of the BWI to “monitor any developments on blacklisting discovered in BWI affiliate countries” and, “assist unions in taking action where there are suspicions of a blacklist or where blacklisting practices have been confirmed.”
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said: “I am delighted that the BWI are committed to stamping out blacklisting wherever it exists. Blacklisting is a disgraceful, deceitful practice which ruins the lives of workers.”
UCATT says some of the companies involved in widespread blacklisting of construction trades unionists in the UK, uncovered by the Information Commissioner in February, are multinationals. It has emerged that many of these companies practice exemplary industrial relations policies in some countries, while undertaking entirely unethical practices in others.
The union says it has been working with construction unions in other countries to highlight abuses and pressure companies at an international level to amend their policies.
Anita Normark, the out-going BWI general secretary, said: “Blacklisting is an obscene anti-union practice used by unscrupulous companies all over the world to deprive workers of their rights and to rob trade unionists of their livelihood. We condemn blacklisting and believe that it should be punishable by law.”
Alan Ritchie added: “Having been at the forefront of the blacklisting scandal in the UK, UCATT are committed to assisting our sister unions in overcoming similar problems in their own countries.”
Construction union UCATT fears new regulations designed to outlaw blacklisting contain so many loopholes they will not deter the practice. It says the proposed measures appear “to give the green light to employers to blacklist in certain circumstances.”
UCATT had argued the regulations should not just make it illegal to blacklist for “trade union activities” but should prevent blacklisting for “activities associated with trade unions”. It says the government has totally ignored this, which could leave workers vulnerable to blacklisting, with the risk “clearest in the event of workers stopping work due to serious safety concerns.”
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said: “Not only are these regulations entirely inadequate, the government’s consultation response favours the continuation of blacklisting in certain circumstances.” The union says the government also failed to address “the routine blacklisting of safety representatives and campaigners, which was a notable feature of the Consulting Association’s blacklisting practices.”
UCATT is concerned with the government’s statement “does not consider that a safety exemption should be created.”
It says it is “highly disturbed” that the failure to specifically protect safety representatives and the allowance of “vetting” for activities other than trade union matters, will mean that these workers will continue to be considered by employers to be “troublemakers” and “undesirable people” and as such will continue to be blacklisted.
The union says it will be working with sympathetic Labour MPs “to have the regulations radically overhauled.”
Construction companies could be facing a bill of millions of pounds after a law firm revealed it was preparing a class action suit on behalf of blacklisted workers.
A report in the trade journal Building says action will be brought against over 40 firms, including Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke, Kier and Costain, who were found to be using the illegal blacklist that was uncovered by the Information Commissioner’s Office in March.
The formation of the Blacklist Support Group in July prompted workers to contact the law firm Guney Clark & Ryan. They say they have now received files from around 40 workers and expected to be representing 100 by Christmas.
The case is being brought under the Data Protection Act. Sean Curran, a partner at Guney Clark & Ryan, said it was difficult to quantify how much each worker could hope to win, but it is understood that, should the lawsuit succeed, individuals can expect a sum between £10,000 and £100,000. Some workers could receive up to £400,000.
A top employment law expert has said the blacklisting law the government is now seeking to introduce is a “disgrace” and “not worth having.”
Professor Keith Ewing of Kings College London, the author of the UCATT commissioned report Ruined Lives: blacklisting in UK construction industry, said: “The government’s response is disgraceful. There has been no consultation. Consultation means engaging in a process with an open mind. They have not changed their mind on anything of substance and have allowed themselves to be driven by the few employers who responded.”
A Blacklist Support Group spokesperson said the rules now going before parliament are “virtually the same as the original regulations the government introduced.” He said the only positive change appears to be a minimum award of £5,000 for any future blacklisting claims won at an employment tribunal.
He expressed dismay that the government instead backs a call from the employer lobby to allow the use of lists for ‘vetting’ workers, so long as it is not illegal or not because of trade union membership, something also condemned by Professor Ewing.
The professor said this “extraordinary statement” on vetting and the failure of the government to listen to submissions from blacklisted workers and unions mean “in their present form the regulations are not worth having; they change nothing, give no new rights, and it’s is a delusion to think otherwise.”
Families Against Corporate Killing (FACK) spokesperson Hilda Palmer also expressed disappointment with the proposals. “It only talks about trade union members – the regulations must refer to all workers,” she said: “We also called for any firm found guilty of blacklisting to be debarred from bidding for government contracts and for penalties to be much more severe.”
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Unions have welcomed publication of new regulations designed to outlaw the blacklisting of trade unionists. The laws, which need parliamentary approval before taking effect, were announced on 2 December by employment relations minister Lord Young.
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said: “Blacklisting is a disgraceful, underhand practice. Until early this year most major construction companies were involved in the blacklisting of workers. The introductions of laws, which are designed to prevent blacklisting, are welcome and long overdue. Never again must the lives of workers and their families be ruined because of blacklisting.”
The union said it will explore with sympathetic backbench Labour MPs if the regulations can be strengthened when they are debated in the House of Commons. Mr Ritchie, said: “UCATT will be working with members of parliament in order to ensure that when the blacklisting regulations are finally introduced they are as robust as possible.”
The new rules were also welcomed by Unite. The union’s assistant general secretary, Les Bayliss, added: “The government must now make it a priority to bring robust regulations into effect. Too many construction workers have suffered victimisation at the hands of unscrupulous employers and it is right to stamp out this practice for good.”
Unite said it had already issued claims on behalf of blacklisted members, under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. UCATT is also supporting tribunal claims.
It will be unlawful for trade union members to be denied employment through blacklists under plans outlined by employment relations minister Lord Young.
He said the new law will ban employers from blacklisting workers for their trade union membership or activities.
Commenting on the publication of the government’s response to a public consultation on the subject held over the summer, Lord Young said: “Blacklisting someone because they are a member of a trade union is totally unacceptable. There is already legal protection against the misuse of people’s personal details. We will now strengthen the law by introducing new regulations to outlaw the compilation, dissemination and use of blacklists.”
The minister added: “The government is determined to stamp out this despicable practice and our legislative proposals are a proportionate and robust response.”
The regulations will:
• make it unlawful for organisations to refuse employment or sack individuals as a result of appearing on a blacklist;
• make it unlawful for employment agencies to refuse to provide a service on the basis of appearing on a blacklist; and
• enable individuals or unions to pursue compensation or solicit action against those who compile, distribute or use blacklists.
The regulations will be tabled for consideration by parliament as soon as possible, the minister said. The government’s claim that the new regulations “need to be debated and approved by each House before they can be implemented,” runs counter to earlier advice that business secretary could go ahead and introduce the necessary amendments to the Employment Relations Act 1999 without further debated.
The government said provided parliament gives its approval, the regulations could be brought into effect early next year.