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November 17, 2010

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Construction firm guilty of blacklisting

A major construction contractor has been found guilty of unlawfully denying work to a trade-unionist.

Unite member, Phil Willis, was blacklisted by CB&I because he is a member of a trade union and a prominent activist, Ashford Employment Tribunal ruled on 10 November. He was awarded £18,375 in damages.

According to Unite’s national officer for construction, Tom Hardacre, it is the first successful case of its type against a major construction company.

It follows the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) discovery in March last year of a worker-blacklisting operation by a West-Midlands firm known as The Consulting Association, run by Ian Kerr. In a raid on the organisation’s office, the ICO found evidence that up to 40 firms in the construction industry were buying information on workers and blacklisting trade-unionists. The raid led to the introduction earlier this year of The Blacklisting of Trade-Unionists Regulations 2010, which made it unlawful for organisations to turn down people for work because their name is on a blacklist.

Mr Willis brought his claim under different legislation – s137 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 – as there was no specific legislation outlawing blacklisting at the time of his claim.

He had submitted an application to CB&I – which was later found to be a subscriber to The Consulting Association’s services – for work as a steel erector on a project on the Isle of Grain. Although his application was acknowledged, he was not contacted again. Following the ICO’s raid Mr Willis obtained a copy of a file held by The Consulting Association containing details about his trade-union activity.

After the employment tribunal hearing, Hardacre said: “The union is currently providing legal support to a number of workers who believe they have been blacklisted.

“Too many construction workers have suffered victimisation at the hands of unscrupulous employers. Unite intends to use the full force of the law to hold firms to account for systematically ruining people’s livelihoods, just because a few brave men were prepared to stand up for the rights of their fellow work colleagues.”

The union’s assistant general secretary, Les Bayliss, added: “This is a significant milestone but we believe the law should go further. Unite will be campaigning to strengthen the law on blacklisting to ensure employers do not even contemplate blacklisting trade-union members.”

Legal counsel for CB&I, Jon Stephenson, said it would not be appropriate to comment at this time, as the company is still awaiting the written decision of the tribunal.

Ian Kerr was fined £5000 last year for breaching the Data Protection Act.

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