Some of the UK’s biggest contractors could have to pay out tens of millions of pounds in damages after they made an ‘amended defence’ of their role in blacklisting at London’s High Court.
Yesterday’s dramatic admission from the eight high-profile contractors came as the court heard the case of nearly 600 claimants.
The contractors involved are Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska and Vinci.
A statement released by the eight companies said they had submitted an “amended defence” to the court on Wednesday in which they laid out a number of admissions for their part in the blacklisting of workers.
The companies’ defence included “a full and unreserved apology” for their part in the “vetting of construction workers through the Economic League and The Consulting Association”.
The statement added: “We recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families.”
According to the unions, the admission could pave the way for large payouts for damages.
The 260 Unite union members also secured an admission of defamation, meaning that the defendants cannot now claim ‘non-disclosure’, opening the door for further action from claimants seeking answers on how and why they were blacklisted.
Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: “Crucially, Unite members can expect to not only receive personal apologies and offers of redress but also larger payouts because of the admission of defamation.
“The admission of defamation allows Unite to continue to seek answers from the firms involved.”
Blacklisting was exposed in 2009 when the offices of The Consulting Association were raided by the Information Commissioner’s Office and closed down.
The ICO found in the offices a handwritten database containing information on 3,212 workers.
According to the ICO, more than 40 construction companies used the database to vet who they employed.
In 2013, Unite along with GMB, Ucatt and the Blacklist Support Group began legal action against the firms at the High Court.
The trial is expected to begin in spring next year.
Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith has called now for a public inquiry into the scandal, saying that “real justice would see those responsible for ruining so many lives sent to jail”.
GMB national officer for legal and corporate Affairs Maria Ludkin said: “The fact the companies have acknowledged the distress and anxiety caused to workers and their families now gives us a firm basis to make sure members are given the very substantial compensation they deserve, and that the true nature of the secretive Consulting Association is known.”
Ucatt acting general secretary Brian Rye added: “This is a highly significant step forward in the battle for blacklisting justice.
“Finally the companies have admitted their guilt and have begun to apologise. However, we will continue fighting until justice is achieved for all our affected members.”
A statement sent on behalf of the eight contractors read: “Ever since the closure of The Consulting Association in 2009, we have been focused on trying to do the right thing by affected workers.
“This was why we set up The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme in 2014 to provide those who felt they had been impacted by the existence of the vetting system with a fast and simple way of accessing compensation.
“Currently, we have paid compensation to 308 people who have contacted TCWCS and we are processing 39 ongoing eligible claims.”
When asked by Construction News how much the TCWCS had paid so far in compensation, the organisation said that it could not disclose the figure due to privacy issues.