Law fails blacklisted construction worker

The construction giant Carillion has admitted a construction worker was blacklisted because of his trade union activities and efforts to improve site safety, but has escaped responsibility because he was an agency worker. The revelation came during an employment tribunal last week brought against the firm by engineer and former UCATT safety rep Dave Smith. It ruled the construction firm could not be held liable because agency workers do not enjoy the same legal protection as directly employed staff.

Earlier, the tribunal had heard an admission by Carillion (previously John Mowlem), subsidiary Schal International and forerunner Tarmac that the qualified engineer was blacklisted. The tribunal heard that between 1999 and 2004 Mowlem paid £20,444 to the Consulting Association, which ran the blacklist.

The Central London Employment Tribunal found Dave Smith had been blacklisted by the respondents Carillion (JM) Limited and Schal International Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Carillion) because he raised concerns about asbestos on building sites and because of his trade union activities, but ruled that because he was an agency worker not directly employed by the respondents, they could not be held liable.

Carillion had accepted that Dave Smith had been blacklisted but denied responsibility, arguing that it bought two subsidiaries after they were involved in the practice, a spokesperson saying the company “does not condone any blacklisting, would not itself tolerate any such behaviour.”

Commenting outside the court, Dave Smith said: “The blacklisting conspiracy is a deliberate breach of human rights by big business. Human rights are supposed to apply to everyone but Carillion and their subsidiaries have got away with systematic abuse of power simply because I was an agency worker. If the British justice system does not protect workers’ rights, then we will be taking our case direct to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

A secret blacklist file collated by The Consulting Association was presented to the tribunal as evidence and contained Smith’s photograph, address, National Insurance number, work history, car registration, union credentials and information about his family. There was also pages of information about times when Dave Smith had raised concerns about poor toilet facilities or asbestos on building sites. This information was secretly supplied to the blacklist by managers from major building companies. The blacklist file was covertly shared amongst the 44 largest construction firms in the UK and resulted in periods of unemployment.

Blacklisting had a devastating impact on Dave Smith and his family. “If I ever became the safety rep, literally within one of two days I’d be dismissed,” he told the Mirror.  “My income went from £40,000 to £12,000 when they blacklisted me. I was a qualified engineer in the middle of the biggest building boom and my kids were on milk tokens.” He’s claimed that he was owed £175,000 in lost income from building giant Carillion and subsidiaries after being blacklisted.

The tribunal heard alarming new evidence of official complicity in the operation of the blacklist. Former police officer David Clancy, the Information Commissioner’s Office head of investigations who exposed The Consulting Association’s activities, told the tribunal under oath: “There is information on The Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services.” He also told the court that The Consulting Association held information on elected politicians, journalists, lawyers and academics.

Labour MP John McDonnell is supporting the Blacklist Support Group’s campaign for a probe into the blacklisting scandal. Speaking after the tribunal ruled against Dave Smith, he said: “I am calling upon the government to launch a public inquiry into the full extent and impact on people’s lives of blacklisting. These revelations are truly shocking and warrant a detailed and open, public investigation.”

The Blacklist Support Group says the evidence revealed in court is “almost certain” to become a key element in a larger “class action” style claim being brought to the High Court by 100 blacklisted workers in the next few months.

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