New blacklisting regulations “too weak”

Construction union UCATT has said it is “bitterly disappointed” with the new blacklisting regulations, warning the measures are so weak that they will not prevent blacklisting from occurring.

Employment relations minister Lord Young  announced the new measures, which came into effect on 2 March. He said: “Blacklisting someone because they are a member of a trade union is underhand, unfair and blights people’s lives.

“The new regulations outlaw the compilation, dissemination and use of blacklists. They have been designed to build on existing protections in the area, which are found in trade union and data protection law, Good employers who operate fair and open vetting processes have nothing to fear from these regulations.” He added: “I am confident that this new piece of legislation will bring to an end the disreputable practice of blacklisting once and for all.”

The regulations:
* 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 an individual appearing on a blacklist; and
* enable individuals or unions to pursue compensation or solicit action against those who compile, distribute or use blacklists. 

However, Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said these measures were insufficient, and said the government had ignored its call for the regulations to be beefed up. “Fortunately for Lord Young blacklisting doesn’t occur in the House of Lords but ordinary construction workers are not so privileged,” he said.

UCATT argued that the regulations were deficient because they did not make blacklisting a specific criminal offence and only prevented workers from being blacklisted for undertaking, the narrowly defined, “trade union activities”.

The union adds that the regulations also fail to grant an automatic right to compensation for any worker who discovers that they have been blacklisted. If a blacklist is discovered workers will not be automatically told that they had been blacklisted.

Mr Ritchie said: “Cynical construction employers will recognise the weakness of the regulations and could continue to blacklist workers. They know that they are unlikely to get caught and if they do they will merely get a slap on the wrist. UCATT will continue to campaign to have the regulations overhauled so that they are truly effective in stamping out this despicable practice once and for all.”

In March 2009, the Information Commissioner reported that 40 construction companies had subscribed to a database used to vet construction workers, which has now been closed under data protection law.  On 16 July last year, Ian Kerr, a former Special Branch officer and the individual who operated the database, was fined £5,000 at Knutsford Crown Court for committing a criminal offence under data protection law.

‘Inadequate’ blacklisting law is delayed

Construction union UCATT says it has won a delay in the implementation of a blacklisting law, after raising concerns about the adequacy of the measures.

The union says it wrote to and contacted directly members of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, expressing “grave concerns” about the proposed law. It says when the committee met on 20 January to consider the regulations, a decision was made to delay ratifying the regulations for a week, as the committee were concerned that the proposals do not comply with human rights obligations.

UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: “The pause in the parliamentary process is welcome. Outlawing blacklisting is a fundamental issue for UCATT. The government now has the opportunity to rethink and redraft regulations which as they stand are entirely inadequate to stamp out blacklisting.”

The union wants the law amended to make blacklisting a criminal offence and for a wider definition of the “trade union activities” falling in the scope of the measures. It also wants workers to be told automatically if their details are discovered to be on an illegal blacklist.

Blacklist law won’t end ‘despicable’ practice

Construction union UCATT has said it is ‘deeply disappointed’ with the UK government’s ‘fundamentally flawed’ blacklisting regulations.

The union had told ministers the regulations as originally drafted would not end blacklisting and had hoped the government would revise the proposed law, but this has not happened.

UCATT says the regulations fail to make blacklisting a criminal offence, despite the government in 1999 promising to introduce such measures. It adds the regulations only cover the limited definition of “trade union activities” and specifically rule out protecting workers involved in “unofficial industrial action” from being blacklisted.

UCATT is also concerned that, under the regulations as they stand, “workers who downed tools due to safety concerns or who refused to undertake overtime, could be legally blacklisted”. Many of the 3,000-plus construction workers listed on industry blacklist uncovered last year were targeted for their safety activities.

The regulations also fail to provide automatic compensation for any blacklisted worker and workers on a blacklist are not entitled to be automatically informed of the fact, the union adds.

UCATT has also expressed dismay that in certain circumstances companies will still be legally able to draw up lists of trade unionists for recruitment practices, something it dubs “backdoor blacklisting”.

UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: “The blacklisting regulations are fundamentally flawed. It is deeply disappointing that the government has failed to listen to the genuine concerns of trade unionists and have failed to make the appropriate amendments to the regulations.”

The regulations were laid before parliament on 5 January. They need to be agreed by both Houses of Parliament before they can be enacted into law.

Construction blacklisting campaign goes global

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.”

UCATT outrage at blacklisting law flaws

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.”

Blacklisting fallout continues

Colin Trousdale blacklisting 

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.
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UCATT protests against the blacklist

Construction union UCATT will hold a demonstration in support of victims of blacklisting outside of Manchester Employment Tribunal on 24 November. The tribunal will be hearing the initial cases of blacklisted construction workers.

UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: “Hundreds of construction workers had their lives ruined by the blacklisters. Many of them were forced out of the construction industry. This is the first opportunity workers have had to win justice from the construction companies who blacklisted them.”

The union says “much of the information contained on the blacklist related to a worker’s union membership. In particular workers who had taken on the role of a health and safety representative or had been a whistleblower on dangerous sites were targeted.”

George Guy, regional secretary for UCATT’s north-west region, said: “A large number of UCATT’s activists in the North West were blacklisted, these workers deserve justice. Everyone involved in blacklisting must be brought to book.”

The union says because of the absence of an explicit blacklisting law, Ian Kerr, the boss of blacklisting organisation The Consulting Association, was charged with data protection offences.

The former Special Branch officer pleaded guilty and was fined £5,000, a penalty described by the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham “as simply inappropriate”.

He added: “Here’s a blatant example of a business making a lot of money by trading in people’s data, which I believe parliament could stop if we activated a custodial sentence for the worst offenders.”

* Protest: 9.30am, Tuesday 24 November, Manchester Employment Tribunal, Alexandra House, 14-22 Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA.

BSG backs UCATT blacklisting campaign

Blacklist Support Group statement

“The newly launched UCATT poster campaign to inform every building worker who appears on the blacklist is much needed. We want every blacklisted worker to have access to their file. The whole process would of course be made a lot easier if the Information Commissioner sent a letter directly to the home addresses of the workers on the blacklist file.

“As a support group representing blacklisted building workers from various diffrent unions, some of our members have had their working lives ruined by the illegal blacklisting operations of the major contractors.

“The vast majority of the over 3,000 workers on the blacklist still do not even realise that the blacklist exists, let alone that they are on it and have been denied employment because of it. So the UCATT campaign poster stuck up in building site canteens is good publicity.
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UCATT steps up campaign to find blacklisted workers

Construction union UCATT has launched a campaign to find all the victims of The Consulting Association blacklist.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the Consulting Association was operating a blacklist of construction workers. There were over 3,000 names on the blacklist and 44 major construction companies were using The Consulting Association’s services to blacklist workers.

After the blacklisting scandal was revealed the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) established a hotline so that people who believed that they had been blacklisted could find out if they were on the list and could then request a copy of their file. However, it is understood that many blacklisted workers have not so far been identified.

UCATT has launched a poster campaign targeting sites across Britain, providing details of how workers can contact the ICO to discover if they have been blacklisted and how to access their file.
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Wider action needed on blacklisting

Workers found to have been blacklisted for their safety and trade union activities should be told about the listing and should be compensated, a report for UK construction union UCATT has recommended.

‘Ruined Lives’, commissioned by the union from the Institute of Employment Rights and written by Professor Keith Ewing, was submitted as evidence to the government’s consultation on blacklisting. It says the regulations to be introduced by the government should specify that it is illegal to blacklist anyone because of “activities associated with trade unions” and that if a blacklist is discovered it should be forfeited and all the people on the list notified that they have been blacklisted.

The report also argues that to use or maintain a blacklist must be a specific criminal offence. And it adds if a worker has been blacklisted then they should receive an automatic award for basic compensation. Where the blacklisting has resulted in loss, there should be an entitlement for an additional compensatory award, it says.
Continue reading “Wider action needed on blacklisting”