Threat of new wave of industrial unrest comes as trio of construction unions step up legal, parliamentary challenges to ‘secretive spying and surveillance’ of union activists
They say Stewart Hume (pictured, right, during a sparks protest in Glasgow, February 2012), who had been employed by Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, has been singled out because of his role during last year’s BESNA dispute, against proposed cuts to pay and conditions by seven breakaway construction companies.
It comes as another industry union, UCATT, is to challenge the practice of blacklisting at the European Court of Human Rights.
The GMB has also thrown down a further challenge to the government’s data protection watchdog, in an effort to force the Information Commissioner to release more details from unlawfully-held surveillance files on union activists dating back to the 1990s.
Blacklisting – which has blighted the lives of hundreds of construction industry workers for decades – is now being actively examined by MPs at Westminster and Members of the Scottish Parliament.
MPs heard from senior figures in both Unite and GMB on Tuesday that they believe the practice is continuing ‘under the radar’ on construction sites across the UK.
Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation that Stewart Hume was the only individual in the country to have been subjected to a face-to-face interview with a particular BBES senior HR manager, whom she said ‘had form on blacklisting’.
Stewart Hume was later selected for redundancy.
He said: “I’m extremely disappointed that after 16 years service with the company, they have used my opposition to BESNA against me.
“I did what was right, the threat of de-skilling our industry was something that I wasn’t prepared to stand by and allow to happen due to the fact that my dad, who was a skilled operative, was electrocuted and killed 28 years ago.
“Accidents can happen to anyone, however my concern was that the industry would be filled with inexperienced operatives making things more dangerous for us all.”
Stewart Hume has worked at a range of sites across central Scotland in the last year.
Colleagues say when he was paid off by Balfour Beatty last month, activists warned they would take action against the company if he was not re-instated by the beginning of next week.
It is thought unofficial action targeting at least one high-profile site could begin within days of the 10 September deadline.
With the prospect looming of a new wave of industrial unrest, UnionNews understands talks are scheduled next week between lawyers for the civil rights group, Liberty and the Information Commissioner’s Office, which holds the only complete copy of surveillance files complied by the now-defunct Consulting Association on more than 3,000 union reps, officials and other campaigners.
Both Liberty and the GMB have called for the ICO to contact all those named in the files to make them aware that they were blacklisted.
The Deputy Commissioner, David Smith, who is responsible for data protection issues, says it is not possible to carry out the request and has instead offered to allow GMB’s lawyers to view some of the information, once a confidentiality agreement is signed, in order to identify which of their members are on the list.
The union would then be in a position to contact those individuals.
However, GMB officials have dismissed the ICO’s efforts so far as ‘a joke’ and it appears that the stand-off is likely to continue.
GMB national officer Justin Bowden told the Scottish Affairs Committee hearing: “What possible incentive exists for construction companies to stop this practice?
“The fact that only 194 of the 3,213 people on the blacklist know three years later that they are on it is an indictment of the ICO.
“Their excuses for not proactively contacting workers on the list are not acceptable and are so weak as to be a joke.
“The ICO is the cork in the blacklisting bottle that needs to be popped.”
Meanwhile, UCATT has lodged a case in the European Court of Human Rights which argues that the failure of the government to outlaw blacklisting breached workers’ human rights.
Lawyers say the case hinges on articles of the Charter of Human Rights which permit freedom of association and outlaw discrimination.
Steve Cottingham, a partner at OH Parsons, who has represented blacklisted UCATT members, said: “Both the Government and judicial system have failed to provide justice for blacklisted workers.
“The only other legal recourse was to lodge a case with the European Court of Human Rights.”
The union says it may be several months before the court responds by notifying the UK government of the legal challenge.
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