A major engineering construction contractor has been found guilty by an employment tribunal of blacklisting a prominent trade unionist.
Ashford Employment Tribunal ruled that Unite member Phil Willis had been unlawfully refused employment by CB&I because he is a member of a trade union and a prominent activist. He was awarded £18,375 in damages. The case is directly linked to the seizure in 2009 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of a blacklist run by the Consulting Association. CB&I were subscribers to TCA and used the services of TCA extensively.
Mr Willis submitted an application to CB&I for work as a steel erector on the Isle of Grain project in 2007. Although his application was acknowledged, he was not contacted again. Following the raid by the ICO Mr Willis obtained a copy of his blacklist file which contained information about his trade union activity. He brought his case under section 137 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
Speaking after the verdict Mr Willis said: “We are beside ourselves with delight. The judgment was absolutely damning against CB&I, so much so that it reduced us to tears. It was such a great victory for us and for all those who will eventually follow in our footsteps.”
Unite’s national officer for construction Tom Hardacre said: “It is the first successful case against a major construction company but it will not be the last. The union is currently providing legal support to a number of workers who believe they have been blacklisted.”
He added: “Unite intends to use the full force of the law to hold firms to account for systematically ruining people’s livelihoods just because a few brave men were prepared to stand up for the rights of their fellow work colleagues.”
Unite assistant general secretary Les Bayliss said: “Unite will be campaigning to strengthen the law on blacklisting to ensure employers do not even contemplate blacklisting trade union members.”
The Blacklist Support Group welcomed the landmark ruling. It added that the inclusion of £2,000 in the payout for “aggravated damages”, specifically related to the company’s involvement with The Consulting Association blacklist, was a major coup, “as aggravated damages are very rarely awarded.”
Campaigners from the Blacklist Support Group provided some extra entertainment at the swish National Building Awards 2010 dinner at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.
The campaign presented its own alternative Blacklister of the Year Awards as the construction industry revellers assembled for the 22 April black tie event.
Balfour Beatty won the category for “Most Enforcement Notices Issued by the Information Commissioner,” with a soaraway 14 notices.
Skanska headed the “Largest Blacklisting Invoice” category, with £28,123 in one year, pipping Sir Robert McAlpine’s £26,842 in payments to covert blacklisting group The Consulting Association.
The former head of the association, Ian Kerr, bagged the “Lifetime Achievement Award.”
A special category, the “Hear No Evil See No Evil Speak No Evil Award”, went to Skanska for its three month internal blacklisting investigation that found no-one in management did anything to merit even a verbal warning.
Safety watchdog the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received an honourable mention in this category.
Law professor Keith Ewing of Kings College London welcomed the awards.
He said: “Blacklister of the Year is an important initiative to remind those attending the National Building Awards of the scandal that hangs over their industry.
“While the fat cats purr with delight at their lavish black tie banquet in the Grosvenor House Hotel, they need to be confronted – in what is an era of austerity for everyone else – about their role in ruining the lives of thousands of British construction workers.”
Campaigners have condemned the lack of protection given by UK employment law to trade unionists falling victim of employer blacklists. They were speaking out after an 8 March written judgement from the first full-merits blacklisting Employment Tribunal, Dooley v Balfour Beatty, found in favour of the company.
Balfour Beatty did not deny using an illegally compiled blacklist to target bricklayer and union activist Mick Dooley. Instead it used documents it had made available to disgraced and now shutdown blacklisting organisation The Consulting Association in its tribunal submission.
While the judge, Mr BT Charlton, described blacklisting as “ghastly”, he found in favour of the construction giant because while Balfour Beatty has sought Mick Dooley’s dismissal, it wasn’t his actual employer – and the law only covers employees.
According to campaign group the Blacklist Support Group: “In an industry where sub-contracting and agency labour is widespread, this effectively allows the major multi-nationals such as Balfour Beatty, Sir Robert Mc Alpine, Skanska and Costain to blacklist workers who complain about safety or unpaid wages with impunity (as almost all labour is sub-contracted out).”
A spokesperson for the group said: “The Dooley decision and the new Blacklisting Regulations are basically a get out of jail free card for the major contractors. The blacklisters can hide behind the fact that they sub-contract most of the labour on major projects to escape any kind of legal responsibility.
“The new regulations will not make an ounce of difference to the likelihood of success for any blacklisted building worker seeking legal redress. If the new Regulations fail to make any difference for workers who can prove they have been blacklisted, what is their purpose?”
The Consulting Association “conspiracy” is a clear breach of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, he added. “The Blacklist Support Group send out an unambiguous message today: if our human rights cannot be upheld in the UK courts or from UK Regulations, then we will be taking our claims to the European Court of Human Rights. We have suffered for many years: we are prepared to fight all the way.”
“Manchester Campaign Against Blacklisting has called for a peaceful protest at Fiddlers Ferry next Tuesday 16th from 7 am to support Steve Acheson against the latest (probably illegal) actions from the power station security in taking down Steve’s banners, then taking them from him – all under police protection.
“Legal advice from a lawyer specialising in human rights law indicates that they had no right to take down the banners; as they were tied on the fence there was no criminal damage, and although the power station Head of Security said they were defamatory, that is a civil not a criminal matter. Also to take someone’s property like that is a form of theft, even if supervised by a police officer.”
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.
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. Continue reading “Skanska’s desperate ruse to evade blacklist blame”
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. Continue reading “Blacklisting fallout continues”
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.
The OFT has fined 103 construction companies for rigging bids for contracts. This follows the scandal of construction companies abusing their workforce through blacklisting practices, and increasing concerns about the practices of gangmasters in the industry and health and safety standards.
John McDonnell MP said: “OFT revelations about the abuse of public funds by the construction industry comes hot on the heels of the blacklisting scandal, and abuses by construction gangmasters. This has exposed the industry as a law unto itself in the way in which it abuses the system to maximise its profits.
“There now needs to be a full public inquiry into the construction industry’s practices: including cover pricing, blacklisting, and health and safety.”
There should be a public inquiry into corrupt practices in the UK construction industry, workplace rights campaigners have said.
A packed 6 October meeting at the House of Commons heard the inquiry demand endorsed unanimously by MPs, leading human rights academics, barristers and blacklisted building workers.
The meeting was called by the Blacklist Support Group to discuss the recently exposed covert illegal blacklisting of trade unionists by major UK building firms. Ian Kerr of the Consulting Association (and formerly the Economic League) was fined £5,000 for his role in the blacklisting of trade unionists. So far, however, the 44 major construction firms have incurred no penalty or sanction.
Addressing the meeting, John McDonnell MP told the blacklisted workers:“This is one of the worst ever cases of organised abuses of human rights in the UK. I fully support your campaign for justice and I will be raising the issue of a public enquiry in parliament. There is already considerable support in the house.” Continue reading “Group calls for blacklisting inquiry”