To guarantee standards of health and safety, workers need representation. When I drafted the European Parliament’s report on Health and Safety in 2007, I found that the presence of health and safety representatives in the workplace lowered the number of occupational accidents and diseases reported, and so any health and safety policy would need to encourage workers’ participation.
But in many firms, particularly in sectors such as construction, workers can face discrimination and even dismissal for representing their colleagues in this way. The practice of “blacklisting” – where workers may be refused employment by employers across the whole sector – is a serious problem, despite the fact that it is is illegal in the UK. The result of this is that some people have been unable to work for decades, simply because they have tried to improve the working conditions of their peers.
The issue of blacklisting was brought to me by an East Midlands constituent of mine and by the Blacklist Support Group, who have worked hard to campaign against the illegal practice.
So I am delighted that this week, the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) called for an end to blacklisting of employees through tougher sanctions for offending employers, thanks in large part to the work of Labour MEP Stephen Hughes. The Committee also called for greater protection for those who blow the whistle about health and safety risks in their workplace. The call, agreed on a cross-party basis, forms part of the Committee’s report on the EU’s Health and Safety Strategy, and is likely to be adopted by the full Parliament next year.
This followed my own earlier attempt to adopt such a call into in the Committee on Environment, Food and Public Health, which also discussed the report on the Health and Safety Strategy. My amendment (no. 22), which similarly called for a change in the law to end blacklisting, was unfortunately unsuccessful – because the ALDE group of MEPs on the Committee, which includes the Liberal Democrats, decided as a group to join with centre-right MEPs and block the amendment. I am pleased that MEPs on the EMPL committee have not done the same.
Once Parliament adopts the report, the onus will be on the European Commission to respond to Parliament’s call and bring forward a change in the law. My Labour colleagues and I will keep working to maintain the pressure on the Commission to do this. This week was an important step towards an end to blacklisting, but there we still have much further to go.