US Republicans seek to silence whistleblowers

Republican lawmakers have indicated it is more important to let employers police themselves on workplace safety than it is to give workers protection when they blow the whistle on unsafe practices.

In comments to Daily Labor Report last week, Republican Representative John Kline said his party would reject President Obama’s proposed budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the official health and safety enforcement agency. He revealed Republicans are particularly opposed to the additional $4.9 million (£3.1m) for worker whistleblower protection and the $3.2 million (£2m) cut in the voluntary employer compliance program that was the hallmark of the Bush administration.

Kline said Democrats wanted “to increase whistleblower opportunities, increase penalties, increase the number of inspectors, increase the number of inspections and pull back from voluntary participation programs. We just have a fundamentally different view of what we think that relationship ought to be between the government and the workforce.”

In a blog posting, the national union federation AFL-CIO responded: “The last time we checked, more inspectors, more inspections, tougher penalties and worker protections were the hallmarks of any effective workplace safety program. There’s plenty of evidence that when given the opportunity, some employers don’t hesitate to cut corners or just downright ignore safety and health laws.”

An AFL-CIO Executive Council statement last week noted: “Some employers, such as Massey Energy and BP, cut corners and flagrantly violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives.”

Cameron ignores call for a blacklisting public inquiry

MAD MEN Cameron and his cabinet sidekicks have vowed to 'kill off' the workplace 'health and safety monster'. But they are happy to overlook police and security service complicity in blacklisting of trade union safety activists, and have ignored calls for a public inquiry.

The prime minister has said the police should investigate police complicity in the blacklisting of trade union and safety activists. The response came in parliament this week after two Labour MPs had called separately for a public inquiry into revelations from the Information Commissioner’s Office that information held by covert blacklisting outfit The Consulting Association could only have been provided by the police or security services.

Michael Meacher has written to home secretary Theresa May demanding a public inquiry into the construction blacklisting scandal. Trade website Construction Enquirer reports that the former Labour cabinet minister tabled a question in parliament last week “to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will set up a public inquiry into recent allegations that (a) the police and (b) the security services supplied information to the Consulting Association leading to the blacklisting of up to 3,200 building workers.”

The call follows revelations during a recent employment tribunal pursued by blacklisted worker Dave Smith. The MP also asked “if she will refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions for investigation and possible prosecution the 44 construction firms listed on the Consulting Association database as having used the services of that organisation to blacklist up to 3,200 building workers.”

Michael Meacher is the second Labour MP, after John McDonnell, to call for a full public inquiry. A 21 March question in the House of Commons from McDonnell on the topic received a response from the prime minister.

The Labour MP said: “When 3,000 people, mostly celebrities, had their telephones hacked, the government set up an inquiry under Leveson. When 3,200 trade unionists have been blacklisted, and many have lost their livelihoods, the Home Secretary simply suggests that they go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Why is there one route to justice for celebrities, and another for working people?”

David Cameron responded: “There is one law that has to cover everybody in this land, and if there is any accusation of wrongdoing, that is something that the police, who are completely independent of the government, can investigate. That is what should happen.”

It is not that the prime minister is unconcerned about workplace health and safety. With the economy going down the pan, Cameron has designated health and safety his whipping boy.  In a 5 January speech to “small businesses and entrepreneurs” he described it as ‘monster’ he intends to ‘kill off’.  Hazards magazine reported this “topped off a display of ministerial bloodlust that had continued seamlessly from late 2011, with no opportunity to foam dyspeptically about the menace of safety passed over.

“As well as the prime minister, his deputy Nick Clegg, the Chancellor George Osborne and business secretary Vince Cable all joined the parade of very mad men.” George Osborne returned to the theme in his 21 March budget statement. Deregulation of health and safety got top billing in his announcement of “supply-side reform of the economy.”

RMT demands publication of secret ‘RMT File’

Rail union RMT has demanded full disclosure of a secret ‘RMT File’ held by blacklisting organisation The Consulting Association. It says to date, the Information Commissioner has only released construction industry files compiled by The Consulting Association. These files, however, include explicit cross references to another ‘RMT File’ which remains unpublished. RMT believes this has been used by employers subscribing to The Consulting Association blacklisting services “to wreck our members working lives in the railway industry.”

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The Information Commissioner’s Office knows that an ‘RMT File’ exists in The Consulting Association records, as it is cross referenced in information from the construction industry files that we have in our possession. It is a scandal that nearly three years after this original information came to light that we have still not received copies of the ‘RMT File.’ Clearly, we have reason to believe that this blacklisting file would have identified RMT activists who will have suffered financial loss from this conspiracy to target known trade union activists purely on the basis of their trade union activity.”

He added the “RMT demands full disclosure and will have no hesitation in pursuing legal action against those involved in this scandal.”

Police and MI5 linked to blacklist of site workers

The police or security services supplied information to a blacklist funded by the country’s major construction firms that has kept thousands of people out of work over the past three decades, the Observer has reported.

It says the revelation came from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which believes records that could only have come from the police or MI5 were included in a vast database of files held on 3,200 victims, most targeted for their trade union and particularly safety activities.

The files were collected by the Consulting Association, a clandestine organisation funded by major names in the construction industry. Evidence of police and security service complicity came at an employment tribunal for one of the victims, Dave Smith (above), a 46-year-old former UCATT safety rep who had a 36-page file against his name and was victimised repeatedly for highlighting safety hazards on sites, including poor welfare facilities and the presence of asbestos.

David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO and a former police officer, told the central London tribunal adjudicating on Smith’s claims against construction giant Carillion that “there is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services.”

He told the Observer: “The information was so specific and it contained in effect operational information that wouldn’t have formed anything other than a police record.” The paper reports that the scandal will be thrown open to further public exposure in the coming months as a class action by 100 victims against at least 39 companies is set to be pursued in the high court by Hugh Tomlinson QC.

John McDonnell MP, who first raised the issue of blacklisting a decade ago, wrote to the Home Secretary Theresa May this week, calling on her to make a House of Commons statement on the blacklisting issue. The letter also calls for a public enquiry.

The blacklisting revelations have attracted coverage worldwide. Michelle Chen, writing in US publication In These Times, noted: “For years, they wondered why they kept getting turned down for jobs, even when they seemed well qualified. The workers might have all just chalked it up to bad luck if they hadn’t eventually discovered they were at the centre of an extraordinary conspiracy… As fresh details have recently surfaced in the British media, the scandal has taken on shades of a British crime thriller, a Sunday tabloid and a treatise on the English working class.”

So far, though, the criminals that bankrolled the blacklist and directed the activities of The Consulting Association – a list that includes many of the UK’s major multinational construction firms – have remained above the law.