Bosses in the construction industry have ruined the working lives of thousands of workers – and paid a paltry £2.20 fee to do so.
The Information Commissioner seized a blacklist of over 3,200 construction workers last week from Ian Kerr.
Kerr is a shadowy private detective who runs a company called The Consulting Association. The blacklist included information such as personal relationships, trade union activity and employment history.
Firms subscribed to the secret list for a £3,000 annual fee, and could view private details about individual workers for just £2.20 a time.
Among the 40 firms using the list are some of the largest in the construction industry – including Balfour Beatty and Laing O’Rourke.
Evidence shows that this blacklist is being used to vet workers on the Olympic sites.
According to documents seized by the Information Commissioner, Kerr billed Sir Robert McAlpine £26,841. The contractor, which is building the stadium for the 2012 Olympic Games, paid £5,951 to Kerr between April and June 2008. It started the Olympics project in April that year.
Many workers ended up on the blacklist after industrial disputes in the 1990s and early 2000s, including those at the Jubilee line tube extension, the Royal Opera House and Pfizers manufacturing sites in Kent.
In 2006 Socialist Worker (pictured) revealed how Alan Wainwright, a former director of Balfour Beatty subsidiary Haden Young, produced a partial version of the blacklist.
Kevin, an electrician whose name appears on the list, told Socialist Worker at the time, “There has been a mountain of anecdotal evidence about blacklisting but the allegations have always been difficult to prove.
“I was a shop steward on the Pfizer site in Kent. Ever since our dispute I have not been able to work on a Balfour Kilpatrick site.
“They were quite heavy disputes and the bosses were worried about us at the time.”
Alan Wainwright gave evidence last year at an employment tribunal where he said, “Mr Kerr managed a small company which collated these lists from the construction companies and conducted the relevant checks when so requested.
“Mr Kerr explained that Carillion were one of the member companies and I specifically recall him mentioning Bovis as another. Mr Kerr informed me that the company functioned and was funded in the following way.
“Each member company would forward to him a list of prospective employees or agency labour workers they were considering to engage. Mr Kerr would then check names against the lists he had collated from the other member companies. Mr Kerr reported back verbally any operatives that were not to be employed or supplied by agencies.”
The comments on the database about workers include, “Ex shop-steward. Definite problems. No Go”, “do not touch!!”, “Caused IR (industrial relations) problems on that site (lazy and a trouble stirrer)”.
Some workers were included on the blacklist for raising health and safety issues. Some of the details the Information Commissioner seized show how the process worked.
For example one reads, “applied to…via agency for…project. Main contact given details. Response to agency – ‘not required’. Agency will say – ‘job now filled’ as their response to above.”
A number of construction workers who have contacted Socialist Worker in recent days back up this account. One worker was asked by a senior construction manager to scab on the Pfizers dispute. He refused – and was told he and his father would never work in the industry again.
Over a period of years he could not find work. The problems continue to this day. He told Socialist Worker, “An agency phoned and asked if we could work on a plant on the Isle of Grain. We got a call a couple of days later telling us that we had the start.
“That evening I got a call from the personnel department telling me the job had fallen through. When we demanded to know why, the person at the agency said it was because we were on a blacklist. It happened time and time again.
“Since I finished my last job last year, I have sent 141 CVs to companies. For standing up over health and safety I have faced misery for nine years. It is a total disgrace.”
Tony Jones worked on the Jubilee Line Project. He said, “The firms should be held accountable – they’ve been taking food out of children’s mouths. That’s what it comes down to.”
Electrician Steve Acheson, who has long campaigned against the blacklist, said, “It’s deplorable and abhorrent that anyone should be put on such a list.
“A lot of workers and their families have been affected and hopefully now it’s been exposed it will help to change their lives.”
The government passed a law in 1999 outlawing blacklisting but decided not to implement it on the ground that “there was no hard evidence that blacklisting was occurring”. The evidence is now overwhelming.
Read our 2006 story » Scandal of constuction industry blacklist