This Friday the High Court will hold the first hearing in a claim being brought by solicitors Guney, Clark & Ryan regarding blacklisting. The case is one of four being brought to the High Court on behalf of blacklisted workers and represents the first real attempt to bring those involved in blacklisting to justice.
It was in 2009 that a database of more than 3,000 construction workers was uncovered in the offices of the Consulting Association. Some of Europe’s largest construction firms are thought to have provided information for the database on workers who were seen as ‘troublemakers’ due to trade union activity and this was used to blacklist them from employment.
Workers who were on the blacklist struggled to find work for years but had no idea why. Yet five years after this came to light, the Information Commissioner has only just begun to notify the people whose names are on the list and those involved in compiling and distributing the blacklist have not faced justice or received any sort of sanctions.
Fortunately, this may finally be beginning to change. As well as the High Court case, both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Government have announced plans to bar companies involved in blacklisting from receiving public procurement contracts. And Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna, has said that a future Labour Government will hold an inquiry into the blacklisting scandal.
In the European Parliament, I’ve been calling for action to be taken on blacklisting for some time. This year, along with my Labour colleague, Claude Moraes, I successfully tabled amendments to the EU’s new law on Data Protection to make sure there is no doubt that blacklisting is illegal. The new regulation still has some way to go before it becomes law but it should then be unequivocal that using data on someone’s trade union membership or activities to discriminate against them, or compiling or distributing a blacklist, are illegal and that governments must make sure appropriate sanctions are in place to enforce this.
The construction companies involved in blacklisting are clearly starting to feel the pressure and in October they announced they would set up a compensation scheme for blacklisted workers. However, early talks between representatives from the scheme and the Blacklist Support Group broke down as the scheme is only offering a token sum of £1000, rather than real compensation and a guarantee of jobs for blacklisted workers.
So we are making progress that will hopefully lead to justice for all those whose lives have been blighted by this illegal practice. However, without decisive action to ensure that construction firms cannot, and will not, do something like this again, people working on building sites may be reluctant to raise concerns about health and safety.
Building sites are hazardous places to work – only earlier this month a construction worker was killed on a site near King’s Cross – so it’s essential that sensible rules on health and safety are in place and enforced. And while David Cameron would like you to believe that health and safety is nothing more than ‘red tape’ that gets in the way of business, there is plenty of evidence that measures to improve health and safety are good for business. Most importantly – health and safety saves lives.
As a former trade unionist, I know how important it is that workers are properly represented and that concerns about health and safety are addressed. This is why I will keep fighting to ensure your rights at work are protected.