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Contractors to face major new blacklisting case

Hundreds of blacklisting cases being taken through the courts will now be heard together, following the grant of a Group Litigation Order in the High Court.

The case will be brought against ten major contractors, representing more than 30 companies named by the Information Commissioner’s Office as having subscribed to blacklist firm The Consulting Association’s database.

It brings together claims by unions GMB, Ucatt, Unite and the Blacklist Support Group.

A case brought to the High Court by Guney Clark & Ryan solicitors on behalf of claimants forming part of the Blacklist Support Group was launched against Sir Robert McAlpine in July 2012.

Sir Robert McAlpine then added co-defendants Amec, Balfour Beatty, Bam, Carillion, Costain, Laing O’Rourke, Kier, Skanska, Vinci to the case in August 2013.

The three unions have also brought separate cases, each of which will now be heard together, with a trial expected to be held before April 2016.

Ucatt said the cases will be managed by a steering committee to be comprised of solicitors acting for UCATT, Unite, the GMB and the Blacklist Support Group, who have all brought forward cases.

Ucatt general secretary Steve Murphy said: “Today was a green light in the battle for blacklisting justice. Over five years after the scandal was first revealed, blacklisted victims are beginning to see justice in action. The companies involved in ruining workers lives are going to be forced to answer for their actions.”

But a spokesman for Macfarlanes, which represents some of the defendants, said that Sir Robert McAlpine had first suggested the possibility of a GLO to the claimants lawyers in October 2012, when it was the only defendant in the original case.

The spokesman said: “In cases where there are multiple claimants, it is often sensible and cost-effective for a GLO to be made, which imposes structure on the proceedings and ensures that similar claims are administered by the same court.”

He added: “The defendants welcome the outcome of the hearing, which they believe results in a rational and efficient structure for the litigation.”

The union added that “it was absolutely essential” the names and addresses of blacklisted workers will not be made publicly available and will be kept in a sealed enveloped which the judge has control over.

Eight contractors launched a compensation scheme last week, which has been widely condemned by each of the three unions as being “cynical” and “inadequate”.

Unite’s executive director for legal services Howard Beckett said this week: “We would urge all blacklisted workers to ignore attempts by the eight blacklisting companies to buy them off through the inadequate compensation scheme launched last week.”

Solicitor for Leigh Day Michael Newman, representing GMB, said this week: “The companies are determined to try to delay and stall these cases so that they can paint their compensation scheme as the only reasonable alternative despite it not being agreed by any union or claimant group.”

A spokesman for Macfarlanes added: “The defendants are disappointed that the claimants’ lawyers did not accept their invitation to select one law firm and one set of barristers for the proceedings, as they have done. This decision will increase costs and cause delays.”

Speaking to Construction News before the High Court hearing, Pinsent Masons partner Richard Slaven, who designed TCWCS said: “We have had an ongoing dialogue with Guney, Clark and Ryan who represent 76 claimants as well as lawyers for the unions.

“The scheme as it currently stands actually contains an awful lot of what the unions wanted, so it is disappointing that they are criticising something that encompasses so much of what they wanted.”

The scheme’s organisers were still hopeful of securing access to the names on the database through Broadspire, the independent administration specialist it has brought on board. They had stressed contractors would not access the information themselves.

Mr Slaven said last week: “We would like to reach agreement with the unions, the ICO and if necessary supported through the courts, that the information should be used because it’s tragic those addresses are available. It’s about choice, we don’t want to force anyone to come into the scheme, it’s about communicating as widely as we can so people have a choice”.

Under the compensation scheme, retired High Court judge Sir Colin McKay, who handed down a huge fine on Balfour Beatty for its part in the 2000 Hatfield rail crash, would hear individual cases and set compensation at up to £100,000. A second, ‘fast track’ scheme would offer blacklisted workers between £4,000 and £20,000.

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