09 September 2017
The government has refused to commit to a public inquiry into blacklisting despite further evidence that the illegal practice continues in the construction industry.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday (06 September 2017), Labour MP Chukka Umunna brought a debate into the issue after being made privy to “compelling evidence” that Crossrail and three of its contractors are still blacklisting workers for acts such as raising health and safety concerns.
“I have seen and read emails that passed and were circulated between contractors and the employee relations department at Crossrail, which detail questionable surveillance practices,” he said, adding that the suveillance operations involved individuals who were implicated in the blacklisting scandal that surrounded the Consulting Association – the company put together by construction companies for the sole purpose of blacklisting workers, largely for being involved in trade union activity.
“ The evidence that I will supply to the Minister after the debate shows that a number of construction workers were being closely watched there, and that sensitive personal information was being collected in relation to them … Two of the workers who were subject to that surveillance have since sought to obtain further employment on Crossrail through employment agencies advertising positions. In each case they approached the job agency about the vacancy, and had the required skills to fill it. However, as soon as they relayed their names there was a delay; they were subsequently given an excuse as to why the positions had been filled … Clearly, subcontractors were explicitly discouraged from employing certain known trade union members. One subcontractor has actually told Unite that the consequences of his employing a Unite member would be the refusal of future work,” Umunna continued.
Trade union Unite has informed the Information Commissioner’s Office of its concerns around the case, and the ICO responded that it “raises the possibility that surveillance is being undertaken without appropriate checks and balances being in place” and that the “collection of this type of data is potentially excessive” under the law.
Umunna also referred to the case of an electrician who has had difficulty finding work since raising a grievance with Crossrail during his employment with the company. After a subject access request compelled Crossrail to provide him with the information it held on him, it was discovered that the firm and three of its contractors had shred personal data about his employment and grievances, which appear to have been used for “vetting” purposes.
Labour and SNP MPs called on the government to launch a public inquiry into blacklisting, to consider introducing criminal sanctions for those who are involved with the practice, and to place restrictions on the provision of public contracts to known blacklisters .
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, Margot James, responded on behalf of the government. She said: “In the absence of clear, strong and compelling evidence to the effect that blacklisting is widespread, we remain of the view that the blacklisting regulations, alongside the proposed changes to the data protection rules, are appropriate and robust tools.”