Blacklisting of workers is a ‘national scandal’. And the scandal is that it has gone on for so long and not enough was done by those shouting the loudest now.
Millions of people would be forgiven for thinking that the illegal
blacklisting of over 3,000 construction workers has suddenly been
discovered. Yet it has been the worst kept secret for over two decades
that those who spoke up with concerns for Health and Safety on
construction sites or defended wages and conditions were punished and
Brave people paid a heavy price as each year, each month, each day
brought more discrimination - more lives were being wrecked, houses lost
to repossession, stress induced ill health, heart attacks and even
It was more than 3 years ago in 2009 when the Information Commissioner's
Office (ICO) raided the offices of the Consultancy Association and
found the illegal records of files kept on 3,200 workers. Ian Kerr was
fined a paltry £5,000 for storing information contrary to the Data
Protection Act. To add insult to injury, the fine was paid not by Mr
Kerr but by the employers who had enlisted his services.
Then last year before he met with his untimely death Ian Kerr ‘spilled
the beans’ when he gave evidence to the Scottish Select Committee.
Jerry Hicks, who is on the illegal blacklist, says, “There are those
that liken this to the ‘phone hacking’ scandal, but I believe this has
more similarities to the Jimmy Saville scandal. How many institutions
knew or suspected? How many employers outside of the contributors knew?
How many MPs suspected or knew? How many union officials suspected or
knew and perhaps benefited? What and how much did the police know?”
Why the lack of effective action? Why has it been left to the determined
struggle of the Blacklisting Support Group along with some very
courageous people already on the list to expose the abuses and attempt
to redress the wrongs and bring those responsible to book?
As a spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office rightly
pointed out to today’s outcry from trade union leaders, “Where were the
unions 3 years ago?”
Jerry Hicks, the only challenger in the current election for Unite
General Secretary, said “The union had the perfect opportunity to
confront blacklisting employers. The Olympics could have, should have
been the time and the vehicle to take on and defeat the blacklist, It
would have propelled the abuse into the national news. It was an
Back in 2010, Jerry Hicks was among those protesting at the Olympic site
over workers failing to find employment there. At the same time, trade
union leaders at the TUC conference only a mile away made speeches about
the need for ‘civil unrest’, yet not one of them came to the protest.
It would seem that some band standing is going on here. After all, who
spoke out the loudest or even at all during those long grim years?
Labour in office? Unite’s leadership?
Jerry Hicks pointed out “Two years ago during the last election for the
top job in the UK’s biggest Union I was the only one of four candidates
that made blacklisting in construction an issue and to promise to
redress the wrongs – both in my campaign and election address. Mr
McCluskey and Ms Cartmail - also candidates - chose not to mention it.
They obviously had other priorities. Perhaps for them it has only just
become a National Scandal.”
Now there is another election on for Unite’s General Secretary, it
having been called ‘out of the blue’, brought forward 3 years and fast
To many it seemed as though it would go uncontested, allowing McCluskey
to extend his term of office without actually going to the members. But
Jerry Hicks has challenged and is well on his way to securing the 50
branch nominations required to force the ballot of 1.5 million members.
Jerry Hicks said “There are two candidates, one on the blacklist who has
always spoken out and acted against it and one who decides to shout
about it now it has hit the headlines. In life everything is about
timing. I have my views as to why Mr McCluskey has chosen now, but I
leave it to you to draw your own conclusion.”
He [Jerry Hicks] added “Labour ‘shadow business minister’ Chukka Ummna
is now calling for an investigation into allegations that firms involved
in major projects, including the Olympics and Crossrail, blacklisted
workers. Great! But why wait until in opposition? What did Labour do
during its 3 terms and 13 years in government? As every year went by
demands for justice went unanswered, while trade unions poured money
into their coffers.”
Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey calls for a “Leveson-style
enquiry” which is correct but also an easy demand now that it has
already hit the headlines. Why didn’t the Unite leadership maximise the
opportunities that previously came their way to highlight the abuse?
Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail, who openly supports Len
McCluskey in his election campaign, described the 40 or so guilty firms
on Radio 5 Live as - “an industry in denial, failing even to
apologise”. She is right.
However it’s not just employers that Unite officials can be hard on. In
2011 when 8 construction companies gave notice of unilateral withdrawal
from a national agreement ‘BESNA’, 500 Unite electricians took matters
into their own hands, met, agreed and embarked on a year long campaign
of protests and unofficial actions which proved to be a very successful
strategy. Official backing did eventually come ‘better late than never’. But Unite’s initial response to this campaign beggars belief.
In an email to Gail Cartmail copied to every Unite construction official
and some staff, the National Officer for Construction Bernard McAuley
began “Good morning Gail, in reference to our conversation last night”
and went on to spew his bile at those very same members of the union
describing them as a ‘cancerous group’, ‘opportunists’, ‘mindless
individuals’ and mentioned Jerry Hicks by name.
When he received this email fourth hand, Jerry Hicks challenged this
outrageous and libelous diatribe and its wide circulation. No formal
apology ever came nor condemnation, and both officials are still
responsible for ‘looking after’ construction members. It is easy to see
how by design or carelessness names can appear on blacklists.
Legal action is being taken on behalf of a number of construction
workers, who are seeking compensation for having their names on the
blacklist. But shamefully this, the only major court case, is a private
case brought by the workers themselves and not funded by Unite. It has
been left to the good offices of Guney, Clark & Ryan to take legal
action on behalf of the construction workers.
Just as the blacklist was more than just rumoured for years, so was the
possible involvement of some union officials in supplying information to
the consultancy agency. A Leveson-style enquiry that Len McCluskey now
calls for, may embarrassingly prove if union officials were involved,
where internal union investigations have failed in the past to find
Jerry Hicks said “In life, chances to really make a difference come and
go. The Vestas occupation on the Isle of Wight was one. It was wasted, I
believe the best chance to save the Remploy factories would have been
protests and occupations during the Paralympics but that chance went
begging. There will be other chances to fight injustice and the Con-Dem
cuts but who will recognise them and act and who will inspire people to
believe that big victories are possible?”
Notes to Editor:
Unite is the biggest union in the UK with 1.5 million members.
Unite is currently holding an election for its General
Secretary, in which there are only two candidates, Jerry Hicks and Len
Jerry Hicks was runner up in Unite's General Secretary election
of 2010 beating two senior national officials and securing 52,527 votes.
He can be contacted by mobile 07817827912 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone who believes they may be affected by
the Consulting Association Blacklist should first contact the
Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on 0303 123 1113.
If you find you are on the list, you should immediately contact Guney
Clark & Ryan Solicitors (GCR) on 02072757788 between 8am and 8pm.
GCR have been representing innocent blacklisted workers in their fight
against the major construction giants since 2009, and have over 100
clients on board already. Most importantly, GCR and the barristers they
have instructed (led by Hugh Tomlinson QC) are working under a
Conditional Fee Agreement (no-win-no-fee type arrangement) and have
insured the case with QBE Insurance.
Anyone who contacts GCR can be assured of their confidentiality and
professionalism, and that the call will be on an obligation-free basis.