In an historic victory for trade unionists, companies were ordered to pay in the region of £75 million in out of court settlements to workers following a long-running lawsuit over blacklisting.
Those involved included construction giants Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci Construction.
Just two years ago individuals were rumoured to have been offered just £1,000 each. This week construction industry union Unite estimated that individual claimant’s payments could range from £25,000 to £200,000, depending on how their blacklisting was deemed to have affected them against factors such as loss of income and reputation.
The amount of damages awarded by the companies was seen by many commenters as representative of the gravity of their wrongdoing.
The ICO (Information Commissioners Office) seized the Blacklist database of over 3,000 UK construction workers back in 2009. It was held by a company called The Consulting Association, created to hide the identities of around 40 firms that funded it. The Blacklist was compiled of over 700 individuals who were judged to pose a risk to potential employers within the construction industry.
The construction firms secret vetting operation violated individual’s rights under the 1988 Data Protection Act and breached the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklist) Regulations 2010.
The database contained personal information and subjective opinion on political affiliations, union activity, employment history and employability. While the main aim of the database seemed to be to avoid employment of union activists, it went further than that.
The list also allegedly earmarked workers who raised concerns over building site health and safety. Imagine questioning whether to report health and safety fears over worry that you might lose your job! Or that you might fail to get another job after being blacklisted.
The firms involved issued an apology to the blacklist victims in court on May 11th. They apologised for causing anguish, distress and anxiety and ultimately denying certain individuals the chance of work.
The Blacklist Support Group were widely reported to be unhappy with the out of court settlements as they deny the victims a trial. As the firms’ apology was read out in court calls of ‘No justice, no peace’ were made.
The Blacklist Support Group’s spokesman was also heard to shout ‘Under no circumstances do we consider this to be a sincere apology.’
Sincere apology or not, we can only hope that the construction giants realise that standing in the way of their employees reporting suspected health and safety issues is backwards. Encouraging employees to come forward with their health and safety concerns should be high up their agenda.
Site safety is paramount. It relies upon individuals bringing issues to the fore then working together to remedy them in order to prevent incidents and keep workers safe.
One of the strategic themes of the HSE’s #HelpGBWorkWell campaign is ‘Acting Together’. The principal behind this theme is to promote health and safety as the responsibility of everyone in the organisation in order to manage risks and prevent hazardous situations. Workers who report potential health and safety issues should be celebrated not cast aside.
The not so secret war between big business and union activists
Blacklisted the book, by the Blacklist Support Group’s Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, tells the story of the ‘Secret War’ between big business and union activists.
According to the book’s Twitter account, there is also talk of a film being made. The war is not so secret anymore and they will surely bring out a second edition referencing the latest chapter in the story and this week’s landmark compensation ruling.