Evidence has emerged that suggests union representatives may have ‘liaised’ with contractors to blacklist workers from construction jobs.
The existence of an illegal blacklist, which effectively barred workers from jobs in the industry, was confirmed by an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009.
The list was maintained by the Consulting Association, a membership group funded by major contractors.
Until now, information about workers supplied to the Consulting Association blacklist was thought to have been provided solely by contractors, which shared the information about prospective workers.
But an investigation by Construction News has uncovered documents that suggest union officials may also have provided information to the blacklist.
One of the files from the blacklist, seen by CN, describes a worker, Michael Anderson, as “not recommended” by Amicus.
Amicus, which was created in 2001 by a merger of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) and the Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) union, merged with the Transport and General Workers Union to form Unite the union in May 2007.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail led an internal investigation into possible union collusion soon afterwards. She told CN this week that she had failed to find conclusive evidence, but did not say it could not have happened.
“I couldn’t prove officer collusion. But it is clear that there was an element of union source,” she said.
Ms Cartmail said she could not discount the possibility that it had come from within her own union. “I am not comfortable that it is not an Amicus source,” she said.
The documents uncovered by the Information Commissioner’s Office and seen by CN say that information supplied to the files of six men on the blacklist, described as having worked on the Jubilee Line extension and understood to be members of the breakaway EPIU electrician’s union, came from “liaison” between employers and union officials (see extract below).
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Ms Cartmail said such information could come from various parts of several unions. “It could be a paid union official or a lay member. Who knows?” she said.
Michael Anderson’s file, from October 2005, describes the electrician, who applied to work on a job at Heathrow T5, as “‘not recommended’ by Amicus”.
Mr Anderson, whose inability to gain work persuaded him to move to Ireland shortly afterwards, said he would fall in behind other members if they brought a case against Unite.
He said: “I am an ordinary spark. I have spent long periods in unemployment. It is not just financial. It is everything.”
Mr Anderson’s redacted file says: “1997–1999. Worked at JLE [Jubilee Line Extension] during electricians’ dispute but not involved in any actions.
“2005 Oct 26th: Information received … that the above is ‘not recommended’ by Amicus.”
It adds: “Above information came from [redacted] of Amicus.”
Ms Cartmail said she could not discuss individual cases but that if there was enough evidence to demonstrate officer collusion, the individual would be disciplined.
She said: “I have no hard and fast evidence. If I had a smoking gun, the easiest thing for me would be to put a head on a pike.”
To reduce the possibility of collusion in future, Ms Cartright said the process by which CVs are vetted by union officials to send to employers was being scrapped.
Each of the men listed in the files where a union is described as having “liaised” had been involved in a lengthy industrial dispute, and the top of their files marks them out as more likely to be EPIU members than members of the more established AEEU.
Their entries also make clear that potential employers should know that they had worked on the Drake and Scull job on the Jubilee Line in 1998-1999. Their entries say: “Above information arose from liaison between union, contractor and managing agent.”
In block capitals, these entries warn “Do not divulge” the source of this information. Potential employers are informed that the individual named on the file is “known to have worked at Jubilee Line should this not appear on his application form.
“Advice is to take up references on previous employers shown on application,” the entries say.
Steve Acheson, leader of the EPIU’s Manchester branch, told CN these documents are part of a portfolio of evidence related to union involvement in the collection of data, which he and his members are considering using to bring a civil case against Unite.
He said: “I have been a union member my whole life. It is a very hard decision whether to sue.
“But I have worked just two years in the last 12. Knowing that part of the reason is because of union involvement is very difficult to take.”
Mr Acheson said he believed each one of around 100 EPIU members from the Manchester branch were on the blacklist – believing membership to have been enough to have prompted inclusion.
But, as his file makes clear, Michael Anderson was not a part of the EPIU union. Nor was he involved in the Jubilee Line dispute.
Using coded language in which four-digit numbers are used to identify contractors, his file reads: “1997-1999: Worked at JLE during electricians’ dispute but not involved in any actions.
“2005 Oct 26th: Information received by 3271/81 site manager at Heathrow T5 that the above is ‘not recommended’ by Amicus.”
David Clancy, who led the original ICO investigation, told CN union involvement in data gathering could relate to historical schisms within some parts of the trades union movement.
He said: “If you look at the last 10 years, there seems to be a lot of in-fighting between the unions.
“Some might be perceived as being more reasonable than others. And some of the workers might have been happy to keep the status quo.
“Certain unions were quite happy to ensure that there was a reasonable relationship between their members and contractors on other sites.”
The affiliation of the six individuals named in documents seen by CN is not known for sure. Their entries read:
“Probably EPIU rather than AEEU.
“1998/99: Employed by Drake and Scull at Jubilee Line. Was actively involved in the issues which arose during the term of contract
“Advice is to take up references on previous employers shown on application.
“NOTE: BUT DO NOT DIVULGE.
“Above information arose from liaison between union contractor and managing agent.”
In July 2009, private investigator Ian Kerr, who ran the Consulting Association, was fined £5,000 for offences under the Data Protection Act.
The following year, the government updated the Employment Relations Act 1999 to prohibit blacklisting of trade union members and activists by employers and agencies.