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Blacklisting construction firms could face civil action

Blacklist victims are seeking damages for “years of unemployment”.

Construction firms fingered as participating in the industry employee blacklist could face a slew of civil claims as victims seek compensation for years of unemployment.

Firms proved to have used and contributed to the Consulting Association list are likely to receive no more than a criminal wrist slap, with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) writ stretching no further than issuing enforcement notices, compelling them to stop.

But Tony Jones, an electrician who claims to have been on the list since at least 2005, is consulting with the T&G Unite union on how to move towards civil proceedings.

He said: “I feel vindicated that this list has been uncovered. But it doesn’t get rid of the lost years and it also doesn’t get rid of the list itself.

“It affects you not just personally, but your family and your children.

“I know people whose marriages have broken up because of this and another 42-year-old lad who had a stroke because of the stress.”

Jones was involved in industrial disputes at Manchester Piccadilly Gardens and Manchester Royal Infirmary in 2003 and 2005, and claims not to have been able to find work with any of the industry big guns since.

“I’m talking to my union right now to see how we can proceed with this,” he said, adding that other members of his union were also seeking similar recourse.

Some 40 construction firms are being investigated by the ICO.

Field, Fisher Waterhouse data protection head Eduardo Ustaran said individuals on the list would have a strong case against implicated companies who had rejected their employment.

However, Rupert Casey, partner of city law firm, Macfarlanes, said companies, or individuals, who had made a cost-benefit analysis on whether to use this list to vet employees, were equally likely to have managed the information so as to avoid a paper trail.

“That will make it a very difficult claim to follow through, and that’s something they should prepare for,” he said.

He added that the ICO’s toothlessness had contributed to the widespread misuse of such data.

“If the law is to be taken seriously it needs effective sanctions,” he said. “It has been said far too often that UK (and EU) data protection legislation lacks penalties. This does not motivate compliance. The Secretary of State has yet to implement Section 55A of the Data Protection Act which allows the Information Commissioner to impose fines for serious and reckless data breaches. There are many factors to consider when assessing the severity of a data breach and how to set a scale of penalty, but the Government must take the lead and cannot on the one hand claim that companies are not respecting the law, and on the other fail to provide the ICO as its dedicated enforcer with the right legal tools.”

Implementation of Section 55 would solve, in a stroke, widespread compliance issues since companies could be fined a proportion of their turnover.

Ustaran said he expected the clause to be implemented before the summer. But the government was trying to nail down the scale of punitive recourse likely to be handed to the ICO.

Do you believe you have been blacklisted? Email us with your story at cneditorial@emap.com

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