Balfour Beatty Construction CEO revealed the company continues to hold some information about blacklisted workers, but refused to give MPs details

Tim Lezard

Big-Ben-woman-in-hijabMPs have accused Balfour Beatty Construction’s chief executive of “hiding behind” his lawyer when questioned about the company’s involvement in unlawful blacklisting of health and safety reps and union activists.

Mike Peasland repeatedly told members of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that information about how Balfour Beatty used data supplied by the now-defunct Consulting Association was ‘legally privileged’.

During almost 3 hours of questioning, he also refused to divulge details of how the company had reacted when it was informed by an internal whistle-blower that illegal blacklisting of construction workers was taking place.

The construction giant is understood to be preparing a legal challenge to compensation claims by hundreds of building workers who were unable to find a job because they had been blacklisted.

The latest hearings came as campaigners welcomed news that a blacklisted union rep, Steve Acheson won compensation of £11,700 following his dismissal from a power station construction project in Warrington due to the Consulting Association’s list.

The Employment Tribunal in Manchester had heard that the employment agency Beaver Management Services dismissed Steve Acheson more than a decade after he had been sacked and blacklisted by Balfour Beatty for raising safety concerns about being forced to work in wet overalls contaminated with rat’s urine at a research plant in Kent operated by the pharmaceuticals giant, Pfizers.

The Select Committee heard that between 2004 and 2008, the Balfour Beatty group paid more than £50,000 pounds to run background checks on some 15,000 people who had applied to work on construction sites across the UK.

Mike Peasland revealed that the company continues to hold some information about blacklisted workers, but refused to give the MPs further details.

He said: “There is information that exists but it has been put beyond use.

“It has been put beyond use because of the impending legal action.

“I could not say what the information was that would come back from the Consulting Association.”

Ian Davidson MP, the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, said he had secured agreement with other firms involved in blacklisting to provide information confidentially to the committee and he said he expected Balfour Beatty to act in the same way.

Mike Peasland told the inquiry he believed regular vetting of thousands of workers had allowed the company to avoid “disruptive industrial action” on a number of sites, particularly around the 2000 millennium, and that this had meant they incurred fewer financial penalties for project over-runs than some of their competitors.

Under questioning from MPs he said he could not explain why the company’s legal experts had not advised Balfour Beatty before 2009 that the Consulting Association’s blacklist was illegal under data protection laws introduced in 2003.

Ian Davidson said: “You can understand our concern that a change in the law was overlooked at a time when you stood to benefit financially and only took action when you were caught.”

“I think you are hiding behind your lawyer on this.”

Mike Peasland said the Balfour Beatty group “regretted” its use of the Consulting Association blacklist – which operated from 1993 until the firm was closed down in 2009 – and that the company apologised to anyone who had been affected by it. He added that he saw no evidence to suggest that blacklisting was continuing now.

“We will make financial recompense to those who have been affected by this,” he said.

In a statement released by the Blacklist Support Group, Steve Acheson said: “[Mike] Peasland admitted that building workers who raised genuine safety concerns would end up blacklisted by Balfour Beatty.

“I was an elected union safety rep who raised concerns on behalf of my fellow workers. Balfour Beatty had no moral qualms about blacklisting me. They had no morals about sentencing my family to financial hardship.

“Mike Peasland’s performance was like watching an unrepentant mafia godfather: Don Corleone had a similar moral code.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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