Blacklisted workers launch £600m High Court action

Blacklist Support Group news release

A group of blacklisted workers in the UK has launched a High Court claim against construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine which could potentially be worth £600million. Guney Clark & Ryan solicitors served a claim on behalf of 86 claimants for ‘Tort of unlawful conspiracy’ at the High Court last week.

The claimants are part of the Blacklist Support Group (BSG), a network campaigning on behalf of construction workers illegally blacklisted because of their trade union activities by major building contractors as part of The Consulting Association scandal first exposed in 2009.

The claim targets Sir Robert McAlpine as the company with the worst record of blacklisting. The last invoice issued to the firm by The Consulting Association was in excess of £28,000 for the use of the blacklisting service. However, the conspiracy charge means Sir Robert McAlpine would also be responsible for the actions of the 40 plus contractors such as Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska who systematically blacklisted workers simply for being members of a trade union.

Many of the claimants were dismissed repeatedly from major construction projects and in some cases suffered years of unemployment because of their union activities or for raising concerns about safety on building sites. It is believed that the larger claims are in the region of £300,000 for loss of earnings and hurt to feelings. The minimum award under the new blacklisting regulation introduced in 2010 is £5,000 (but the regulations do not retrospectively cover The Consulting Association victims). The average claim has been estimated at £20,000, which values the current cases in excess of £17million. As this is the first wave of claimants, out of a possible 3,200 blacklisted workers, the total payouts the building firms could face exceeds £600million.

The blacklisted workers are being represented in the High Court by Sir Hugh Tomlinson QC, barrister to the stars in the News of the World phone hacking cases.

Mick Abbott, a 74-year-old ex-scaffolder, commented: “This nearly ruined my marriage and it meant that 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 picketers in 2006. They have been watching me all these years and passing this information around, blighting my life over four decades.”

Steve Kelly (above), an electrician and spokesperson for the Blacklist Support Group said: “I was blacklisted because I was a union member and because I raised issues about safety. In 2007, [Sir Robert] McAlpine sacked me from the Colchester Barracks project after 2 days for refusing to work on a moving platform without proper training (exactly as we had been instructed in the site induction) – the dismissal is recorded on my blacklist file.

“Over the year I suffered severe financial strain, my wages were cut in half which caused immense stress paying bills and putting food on table. I was out of work for a year apart from few weeks here and there in 2001. Being sacked from Colchester Barracks after only two days piled up the stress and caused a nervous breakdown for me eventually.

“The blacklisting firms should be made to pay compensation for years lost and years in future. They should be made to employ blacklisted workers or not be awarded any public government backed contracts. An apology in national press and to individuals whose lives they ruined would be a start.”

European action demanded on blacklisting

Labour MEP Glenis Willmott is demanding a clearer commitment from Euro bosses on the issue of blacklisting of workers.

The East Midlands MEP has given a cautious welcome to a confirmation from the European Commission that, as part of its upcoming review of health and safety legislation, it will ensure that EU law is being followed and that workers’ health and safety reps are not being put at a disadvantage by employers.

However, Willmott, who is Labour’s leader in Europe, has called for a positive statement that the Commission will specifically address the issue of blacklisting. “The practice of ‘blacklisting’ – where workers may be refused employment by employers across the whole sector – still exists,” she said. “The EU Commissioner for Employment, László Andor, admitted in an earlier answer to me that the Commission is aware that some employers continue to blacklist workers.”

By 2015, the European Commission must carry out a review of the implementation of EU health and safety legislation across member states. In a parliamentary question, Willmott asked the Commission to confirm whether this review would look at blacklisting of workers’ health and safety reps, a practice which is illegal under EU law.

“Commissioner Andor confirms that the review will address the issue of protection for trade unionists and workforce representatives who deal with health and safety on behalf of their colleagues,” she said. “He also confirms that if the review does find that blacklisting remains a problem, then the Commission will ensure that national governments apply ‘dissuasive, effective and proportionate penalties’ to infringers.

“However, the Commissioner still leaves himself room to backtrack on whether the review will look specifically at the extent of blacklisting in EU countries. Given the abuses we have seen recently, I want an absolute commitment from the Commission that they will do all in their power to outlaw entirely the blacklisting of workers whose only crime has been to defend the safety of their colleagues in the workplace.”

The Labour MEP originally took up the issue of blacklisting on behalf of a constituent and member of the building trades union UCATT and has made some headway. The first hopeful signs emerged when Willmott and Labour MEP colleague Stephen Hughes joined a delegation from the grassroots Blacklist Support Group in a “very positive” 30 June 2011 meeting with EU employment commissioner László Andor.

At the end of 2011, the European Parliament demanded an end to the blacklisting of employees through tougher sanctions on offending employers.

Blacklisters face professional abuses charges

On 1 July 2012 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – the professional body for Human Resources in the UK –  published a new Code of Conduct for its members. The first complaint made under the new Code is by the Blacklist Support Group, and lays several misconduct charges against five prominent, high-level construction industry managers. This is the full text of the complaint:

The Blacklist Support Group would like to make a formal complaint for serious professional misconduct and serious breaches of the new CIPD Professional Code of Conduct against the following individuals who we believe are current CIPD members:

  • Gerry Harvey – Director of Human Resources at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Limited
  • Elaine Gallagher – Human Resources manager at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Limited
  • Liz Keates – Head of Human Resources at Carillion Health
  • John Edwards – manager at Carillion
  • David Cochrane – former Head of Human Resources at Sir Robert McAlpine

The individuals named above have actively participated in the illegal Consulting Association conspiracy that blacklisted trade union members in the construction industry. They either attended meetings or covertly supplied personal data on trade union members to the secret blacklist which was used to systematically deny work to 3200 individuals.

The Consulting Association blacklist resulted in new legislation being introduced (Blacklist Regs 2010), a number of Employment Tribunals in which the HR profession has been seriously criticised and David Cameron even answered questions at PMQs.

The scandal has been described as “the worst case of organised human rights abuse in the UK in the past 50 years” by Professor Keith Ewing of Kings College London and cases have been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.

Blacklists do not compile themselves: numerous Human Resources  professionals in the construction industry are implicated in the scandal and should be held to account for their serious professional misconduct. People Management has covered the scandal, in one article Skanska admitted that up to 30 of their managers were involved in blacklisting. Yet to date, no disciplinary action has been taken against any of the individuals.

The individuals we accuse above have all been named in Hansard after being exposed for their personal involvement in blacklisting during in evidence given to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in June 2012.

Gerry Harvey has admitted in an Employment Tribunal that he attended Consulting Association meetings on behalf of Balfour Beatty and is heavily criticised by the judge in the written judgement.

Elaine Gallagher admitted in the same tribunal to being the “main contact” with the Consulting Association at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Ltd.

Liz Keates of Carillion Health has been identified in Employment Tribunals as supplying information about trade union members to the illegal blacklist.

John Edwards attended Consulting Association meetings in 2008 on behalf of Carillion (proved by invoices disclosed in Employment Tribunals)

David Cochrane has stated in correspondence for a ET claim that he dealt with the Consulting Association for over a decade.

All documentation will be forwarded upon request if a formal investigation proceeds.

As a minimum, we believe that the individuals named are in breach of the following sections of the CIPD Code of Conduct:

2.2 exhibit and defend professional and personal integrity and honesty at all times

2.4 advance employment and business practices that promote equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion and support human rights and dignity

2.5 safeguard all confidential, commercially sensitive and personal data acquired as a result of business relationships and not use it for personal advantage or the benefit of detriment of third parties.

3.1 always act in a way which supports and upholds the reputation of the profession

3.3 comply with prevailing laws and not encourage, assist or collude with others who may be engaged in unlawful conduct

There is a mountain of documentary evidence that senior HR managers in the construction industry have been involved in systematic human rights abuse over a period of decades. Their misconduct has been a stain on the reputation of the profession. It is time that the CIPD carries out a full disciplinary investigation into the role played by its members.

Complaint made by:

Steve Acheson
Brian Higgins
Steve Kelly
Dave Smith

on behalf of: Blacklist Support Group