Socialist Worker

How much did unions know about construction blacklist?

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2152

The government has announced that it will “consult” over proposals to outlaw blacklisting after the Information Commissioner revealed that up to 40 construction firms had subscribed to a “blacklist”.

New Labour has put off implementing legislation against the blacklist for ten years, claiming that there was no evidence of its existence.

Yet, this evidence has been in the public domain since 2006, at the very least, and in the possession of some in the union movement since 2005.

The Information Commissioner seized a blacklist of over 3,200 construction workers from Ian Kerr in March. Kerr is a shadowy private detective who runs a company called the Consulting Association.

Alan Wainwright, a former director of Balfour Beatty subsidiary Haden Young, produced the initial evidence about blacklisting.

In 1997 he was the national labour manager at engineering company, Crown House.

He had been told by a senior manager that construction companies paid Kerr for information to “ensure that certain workers did not gain employment on their projects”.

According to Wainwright, “Kerr definitely made it clear that they were undesirable people who had a history of causing disruption to projects.”

He had two meetings with Kerr, who said that many construction firms supplied him with details of workers on his database.

Kerr showed Wainwright a list of more than 100 names.

Rejected

According to Wainwright, Kerr said that when someone applied for a job, the company would forward their name to him so he could check his database.

If a worker was rejected, a simple “no” would come back, with no other explanation.

Wainwright’s department faxed a list of names to Kerr each week.

Wainwright said, “It was very discreet, a closely guarded secret. It was made clear to me that I was not to discuss it with anybody, and I didn’t.

“Ian Kerr is not the primary cause of this. The companies set him up in business, funded his existence from the start, and each name on the list would have been provided by the companies. The directors took the decisions to join the system.”

In 2000, Wainwright worked for the Drake and Scull construction firm.

He said his managers sent him a list of 500 workers, with their national insurance numbers, which it had received from rival construction firm Balfour Beatty.

He said the listed workers had been employed on three large construction projects that had seen a lot of industrial action, and that the list was distributed to managers to ensure some workers were not employed.

The memo, dated August 2000, advised him to “keep this information confidential”.

When he was at Haden Young, the blacklisting continued. Copies of Haden Young faxes show lists of names being sent to head office so that they could be vetted.

Socialist worker exposed the existence of these lists in 2006.

Wainwright has now produced documents that suggest that some in the trade union movement had evidence of the blacklist.

As part of his claim for constructive dismissal from Haden Young, Wainwright was accompanied by a union official to a grievance hearing.

Union support was later withdrawn for his claim.

Disposal

According to Wainwright, “The Amicus union has been in possession of all the blacklisting information at my disposal since August 2005.”

He repeatedly wrote to Amicus and its general secretary Derek Simpson asking what the union was doing to investigate and raise the issue of the blacklist.

The companies named by Wainwright and the Information Commissioner all deny involvement in blacklisting.

Unions and individuals are attempting to sue construction companies over the use of the blacklist. For too long there has been complacency over eradicating it.

If legislation comes in it will help, but a tough stance in defending workers against the bosses will be the way to end the blacklist once and for all.

lTo see the documents go to alanwainwright.blogspot.com


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Article information

News
Tue 19 May 2009, 19:01 BST
Issue No. 2152
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