The GMB union has called for construction firms to come clean on the “disgraceful and immoral” blacklisting of workers, following revelations that the information watchdog left up to 90 per cent of potential evidence untouched during its investigation.
The GMB told CN that it hopes to start work over the next week to track down its members among more than 3,000 people listed by the Information Commissioner’s Office as potentially having been blacklisted by contractors.
Meanwhile, UCATT told CN it was was in “ongoing discussions” with the ICO to establish which of its members might be on the blacklist.
Construction firms could reportedly face legal bills of hundreds of millions of pounds under claims brought by workers for loss of earnings after allegedly being blacklisted. At the very least, compensation would top £16m if the 3,213 people recorded by the ICO as being affected receive their minimum compensation of £5,000 each.
The ICO revealed to a Parliamentary committee on Wednesday that it had only removed 5-10 per cent of files from the Consulting Association when it raided the firm for evidence in 2009. Thousands of workers were blacklisted for real or supposed union or political activities by the Consulting Association which was used by many top industry firms.
The Consulting Association was closed in 2009 and its owner Ian Kerr fined £5,000 for data protection offences. Mr Kerr went on trial in 2009 and CN revealed the extent of invoices charged to major contractors by the firm.
An ICO spokesman rejected claims that up to 60,000 workers may have been blacklisted by the Consulting Association, but conceded that the watchdog may be unable to contact all people on its current list due to the inaccuracy of some data held.
A spokesman for the GMB criticised the “rather weak and depressing excuses” given by the ICO on why it was unable to contact people on the blacklist, but said its work to identify GMB members was “another small step in the right direction”.
The watchdog was previously only prepared to issue information to people on the blacklist if they contacted the ICO directly to establish whether their information was held, but says its new approach to contact those involved is unprecedented. CN reported in July that the GMB Union was planning to take legal action to force the disclosure to those affected of names of blacklisted construction workers.
The ICO met with the GMB on 12 September and is working with the union’s lawyers to help identify which members may be on the list, while UCATT is involved in a similar process.
UCATT’s General Secretary Steve Murphy told CN: “In terms of the ICO contacting blacklisted workers this is a welcome development. Previously the ICO would not countenance such actions.”
The ICO defended its 2009 investigation into blacklisting information held by the Consulting Association, saying that its seizure of documents was limited to the warrant it had been granted.
The spokesman said the ICO has seen “no evidence of the existence of any other employment blacklists, whether during the investigation into the Consulting Association or since”.
A BIS spokesperson said: “The government takes blacklisting very seriously and changed the law in response to the findings of the investigation by the UK Information Commissioner. Regulations were introduced in March 2010 that make it unlawful for trade union members to be denied employment through blacklists.
“Under employment law, individuals cannot be refused employment or the services of an employment agency because of their trade union membership. They are also protected against detriment and dismissal on the same grounds. ”
Read - February 2012:
CN analysis on files revealing for the first time the extent of the information being kept, the lengths to which the organisation would go to collect information, and the way the blacklisting operation worked