Scottish Affairs Committee expresses concern that leading companies have not admitted to extent of blacklisting

Tim Lezard

Blacklist Support Group banner - City of LondonUnions have welcomed the findings of an MPs report into what they say is “the dark side” of Britain’s construction industry.

(Pictured: A Blacklist Support Group banner at a building site in the City of London)

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee’s interim report expresses concern that leading companies have not wholly disclosed the extent of blacklisting across the construction industry.

As part of its 11-month investigation so far, the Committee says companies which used the anti-union blacklist included some of the biggest names in the construction industry, but also many smaller firms.

The interim report says the organisation set up to create, maintain and operate the blacklist – the Consulting Association (TCA) – appears to have been largely established by Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, which also provided TCA’s Chairmen for eight of the 16 years of its existence, between 1993 and 2009.

Other major subscribers included Skanska and Balfour Beatty. Executives from each of the three named firms gave evidence to the inquiry.

GMB national officer Justin Bowden told UnionNews: “It is a really thorough piece of investigative work by this Select Committee.

“It confirms everything that the trade unions and others have been saying for a long time, which is that blacklisting in the construction industry – and indeed more widely – is an on-going scandal.

“Its findings suggest that there is still a long way to go, both in terms of uncovering the depth of the scandal, and for putting things right for those people who were blacklisted, for the troubles that they have all suffered.”

Union officials say they expect to give evidence to a second phase of the Select Committee’s investigation, which will look into whether victims of blacklisting should receive compensation.

UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “Every time there has been an evidence session we have learned more about the blacklisting scandal.

”We must never forget the effects that blacklisting had on ordinary workers and their families. It is essential that justice is won for everyone who was blacklisted.”

Unions say they intend to step up increasingly public and potentially confrontational protests designed to target company executives and HR officers accused of using the database of more than 3,000 activists, health and safety reps and others compiled by the now-defunct TCA.

The company was closed down following a raid by officers from the data protection watchdog, the ICO, in 2009.

TCA’s director Ian Kerr – who was fined £5,000 for his part in operating the blacklist – also gave evidence at an earlier stage of the investigation.

He died shortly after appearing before the committee. In their report, the MPs formally thanked him for his “candour” and extended their condolences to his family.

Following the publication of today’s report, the Scottish Parliament will hear calls later this week for companies accused of involvement in blacklisting to be banned from tendering for publicly-funded contracts in the future. Similar bans have been adopted by the Welsh Assembly and by a number of English local authorities.

General Secretary of the STUC, Grahame Smith, told UnionNews: “I have been very disappointed by the response of the Scottish government.

“I contacted them several years ago and asked them to investigate whether any Scottish local authority had passed on information about individuals and their political or trade union affiliations to the security services and received a very dismissive response.

“There is more the Scottish government can do on this issue.

“Any company that has been engaged in this despicable practice should never be allowed to receive any public contract again.”

Campaigners say they are convinced that blacklisting continues in the industry.

According to extensive research documents, seen by UnionNews, Unite believes a number of construction companies awarded contracts as part of the £16bn London Crossrail project – such as Royal Bam and Kier – ‘have cases to answer’ over blacklisting.

The union alleges that 18 of the known 37 contacts for the Consulting Association are engaged with companies on the Crossrail programme.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who is due to speak on blacklisting at the STUC conference in Perth tomorrow (17 April), said: “Unite firmly believes the only way to eradicate this morally indefensible practice is to strengthen legislation against blacklisting to give the law real teeth.

“We also believe that punishment for the blacklisters who have ruined lives and left families destitute should be severe. Blacklisting should be a criminal offence with punitive action up to and including imprisonment.”

Campaigners believe a full public inquiry into the scandal – akin to Lord Leveson’s inquiry last year into phone hacking – will be necessary to usher in legislation to make blacklisting illegal and to punish those who condemned construction workers to years – in some cases decades – of being unable to earn a proper living.

You can watch a film report on the inquiry here:

And you can hear interviews with the GMB’s Justin Bowden, Grahame Smith of the STUC and the chair of the Select Committee, Ian Davidson all in this week’s edition of The Active Voice podcast.

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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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