When the news broke that Unite had become the final union to reach a settlement over blacklisting this week, the contractors were keen to stress that they wanted to draw a line under the matter.
By agreeing the compensation, making a joint statement with the unions in court and reiterating the public apology they made in October 2015, contractors say they’ve brought the matter to a close. But it’s too early to say whether the unions will be willing to take the money and move on.
In any event, there is still a legal case being pursued by the original whistle-blower, and the possibility that Labour will develop procurement guidelines advising local authorities to consider blacklisting histories when awarding public contracts.
Construction’s association with blacklisting isn’t going to disappear into the background altogether.
This sorry saga has dragged on for years. Yes, contractors in this court case eventually issued an apology, and that apology is no doubt sincere, but it was six years between the Consulting Association blacklist being exposed and that collective apology. For the contractors to describe it as ‘spontaneous’ jars.
Yes, many of the companies which issued the apologies were not the firms that were guilty of blacklisting, rather their hybrid descendents, while others no longer exist.
“The public will remember the industry for blacklisting. They won’t remember the details but they’ll remember the smell of it”
But this wrong was not done generations ago when working practices were wildly different. It was going on up to 2009 – less than a decade ago.
Construction tends to hit the mainstream press for a limited number of reasons: the successful completion of an iconic project; the less-than-successful completion of an iconic project; or issues to do with its workforce – health and safety, blacklisting, CSCS cards, the skills crisis.
Long in the memory
We have to believe that contractors really would never again do anything similar. But that’s not enough. The public will remember the industry for blacklisting. They won’t remember the details – just as they struggle to name a single construction company – but they’ll remember the smell of it.
Contractors must actively seek to demonstrate how things have changed, to highlight the great work they are doing to improve diversity, to nurture and develop young people, to transform the industry into a meritocratic sector that’s fair and focused on always seeking better ways of doing things.
Drawing a line under blacklisting is not enough: the industry needs to paint a whole new picture.