Exec Vice President of Skanska UK Scottish Affairs Committee he had no knowledge that 10,000s of workers were subjected to what he called “a process of vetting”

Tim Lezard

Big-Ben-woman-in-hijabAnti blacklisting campaigners have warned one of the UK’s largest construction companies it must chose to “be part of the clean-up or part of the cover-up”.

It comes after the Executive Vice President of Skanska UK admitted to the Westminster inquiry into blacklisting that the company had been the biggest single contributor to an anti-union surveillance database during the1990s and 2000s.

Skanska – which was at the time involved in building the Jubilee Line extension in London, a number of NHS hospitals, new Ministry of Defence offices in Whitehall and a prison – said it used an industry-wide blacklist to prevent workers with a history of health and safety breaches or records of drug abuse and alcohol problems from working on ‘high profile projects”

However, Harvey Francis told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee he had no knowledge that tens of thousands of workers had been subjected to what he called “a process of vetting”, despite his role as HR director at the time.

The committee heard yesterday that a sample of 300 blacklisting records contained only 3 which mentioned drug or alcohol abuse as a reason why those individuals should not be given a job.

The remainder all recorded information about their trade union activities or their work as a health and safety rep.

Harvey Frances told MPs the company had carried out an extensive investigation into Skanska’s 16-year relationship with the now-defunct Consulting Association, which unlawfully held records on more than 3,000 health and safety reps and union activists.

“The company is truly sorry for what happened,” he said.

“[Skanska] is a very different company now from what it was a few years ago.”

Asked by the chair of the select committee, Ian Davidson MP whether he would provide a copy of the company’s findings from the internal blacklisting inquiry, Harvey Francis said he was being advised by his company’s lawyer that the report was ‘legally privileged’ and could not be made public.

Skanska is the first company to refuse to divulge information in this way since the Scottish Affairs Select Committee began the blacklisting inquiry in June 2012.

Senior members of the committee have subsequently made it clear to the company and its lawyers that they are “not happy” about the refusal to hand over the document.

UnionNews understands the committee is seeking an arrangement with Skanska which will allow MPs to see the report.

Asked whether the company now felt it had a moral obligation to compensate those who were denied the right to work as a result of the Skanska’s particupation in blacklisting, Harvey Frances told MPs: “If they could demonstrate that our action prejudiced them getting a job, we would look at that on an individual basis.”

However, he was immediately challenged by Ian Davidson to explain how the company could consider an individual complaint by a blacklisting worker, yet it was preparing to resist the class action for compensation by hundreds of workers which is expected to come to court later this year.

Speaking outside the House of Commons after the hearing, one blacklisted electrician – who asked not to be identified because he is named in the class action – told UnionNews: “Have these people not heard of common decency?

“They put people like me out of work for years and that’s all they can say about it now. It’s disgusting.”

Campaigners expect the first of the blacklisting class action cases taken by dozens of individuals against major employers such as Sir Robert McAlpine and Carillion could come to court “within weeks.”

GMB national officer Justin Bowden told UnionNews: “In the light of today’s evidence, Skanska must now decide if it wants to be part of the clean-up of this industry or part of the cover-up of blacklisting.”

The committee is due to take evidence next week from Balfour Beatty.

UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “While Skanska may now be sorry for their blacklisting activities, that is cold comfort for the victims of blacklisting, who were denied work by their actions.

“Skanska, along with the other companies involved, must compensate the workers they blacklisted.”

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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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