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MPs urged to tighten blacklisting plans

Unions are planning to target MPs in a bid to strengthen new blacklisting regulations, branded by one legal expert as “disgraceful”.

The Government last week published regulations designed to outlaw blacklisting after an investigation by the Information Commissioner earlier this year found 40 contractors had subscribed to a database to vet their labour supply.

But construction union Ucatt claimed the laws contained “so many loopholes they will not deter the practice”. It said the regulations only covered a very narrowly defined list of trade union activities and would leave workers open to being blacklisted for raising safety concerns or taking unofficial strike action over safety conditions.

The union said it wanted the regulations to be “radically overhauled”.  According to employment relations minister Lord Young, the regulations will make it:

  • Unlawful for organisations to refuse employment or sack individuals as a result of their appearance on a blacklist;
  • Illegal for employment agencies to refuse to provide a service on the basis of someone appearing on a blacklist;
  • Possible for individuals and unions to pursue compensation and solicit action against those who compile, distribute or use blacklists.

The Government said it planned to table regulations in parliament as soon as possible. But Keith Ewing, a professor of public law at Kings College London, who was commission by Ucatt to study the proposed laws, described the regulations as “disgraceful”.

He said that the definition of “union activity” was too narrow and allowed other information to be lawfully gathered.

Ucatt said it would now target “sympathetic” backbench Labour MPs in a bid to strengthen the laws when they are debated in the House of Commons.

The union’s key demands include making blacklisting a specific criminal offence – otherwise the onus is on blacklisted workers to bring any legal case themselves – and allowing blacklisted workers to receive an   automatic award for basic compensation.

The union is expected to win considerable support. Labour MP John McDonnell, who has been an advocate for blacklisted workers since the ICO’s investigation, began an early day motion in late April to support what he described as: “All those workers who are fighting the heinous blacklist operating against trade unionists in the construction industry.”

The motion called for the Government to immediately enforce the provisions under the Employment Relations Act 1999 – which would have made blacklisting unlawful, but were never introduced – as well as ban companies found using the blacklist from any public sector work.

The EDM garnered wideranging support, with signatures from more than 50 Labour MPs.