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MP tells government to enact 'blacklist' act to protect H&S

Labour MP Michael Clapham has urged the government to protect H&S by using its clout as a client to stop firms that use blacklists from getting public sector work.
Speaking in the House of Commons at an adjournment debate on March 23, Clapham called for the enactment of section 3 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 to protect individuals from blacklist practices used by firms.

Addressing Patrick McFadden, the minister for employment relations and postal affairs at BERR, Clapham said: 'The fact that the public sector was the client in just over 31% of construction output in 2006, making it the industry's largest customer, suggests that the government, as a major client, have some responsibility to use the powerful lever that exists to ensure that companies who use blacklists are not engaged on projects'.

Clapham highlighted the 'worrying' health and safety record of the industry, with construction accounting for almost one third of UK workplace fatalities. He said: 'The government have an important role to play in the issue, and workplace safety representatives will need to be reassured that they will not be blacklisted if they do their job properly'.

He told the house: 'I agree that anybody who has worked around the construction industry, and talked to people such as those I have talked to in preparing for the debate, gets the feeling that blacklisting has been around for many years, and that it is not just the large organisations that we have mentioned that organise it but the construction companies themselves. They prepare blacklists and exchange them among themselves'.

When asked by Labour MP Jim Devine why government doesn't just tell construction firms on the list that they will not get government contracts, the minister Patrick McFadden replied: 'I have already received a letter from one of the companies that have been mentioned, dissociating itself from the activity and claiming that it did not realise that it was buying into it. We reiterated our position that we would not consider implementing the regulations until clear evidence arose'.

McFadden added: 'Our objective is to assess precisely whether the activities undertaken represent the kind of blacklisting activity that section 3 of the 1999 Act was designed to cover'.

Earlier this month BERR officials spent two days at the offices of the Information Commissioner, examining material linked to the database of blacklisted workers held by The Consulting Association (TCA). McFadden said based on their findings, the government will decide what action to take.

At the debate Ian Davidson (Labour MP for Glasgow South West suggested that in the absence of immediate action, could all members of the House be made aware of the list of firms operating the blacklist so that MPs can take it up with housing associations, councils and other organisations in their constituencies.

Regulations for Section 3 of the Employment Relations Act 1999, consulted on in 2003, would allow individuals to obtain compensation for being refused employment or for suffering discrimination by their employer because of their inclusion on a trade union blacklist. People, including trade unions, could claim damages from the compilers, disseminators and users of the blacklists for financial loss.

Highlighting the plight of one blacklisted worker Clapham told the house: 'I recently spoke with a construction worker whose name is on the blacklist. He told me that he believed that the blacklisting was much more insidious than merely a list being kept by the Consulting Association. He had worked all his life in the industry and had been blacklisted for 35 years, basically for standing up for trade union rights, particularly in health and safety. In his view, what happens in the industry is that lists are exchanged from company to company. He came to that conclusion having been moved from one job to another. When he had been on site for only two or three days, he would be visited by the site agent and told that there was no work there for him'.

The Information Commissioner alleges that Ian Kerr, of Droitwich, Worcestershire, charged companies £3,000 a year to consult his database of 3,213 workers, whose names were accompanied by notes such as 'poor timekeeper, will cause trouble'.'

The ICO is urging anyone who believes they may be on TCA's database to contact them. A spokesman for the ICO said: 'Our investigations have led us to believe that all the companies listed above [see ICO list of firms] have, at some point, used the services of TCA. Our Regulatory Action division is currently in the process of contacting each of these organisations to establish the full extent of their involvement. We will then be in a position to determine what, if any, action may be appropriate in each case'.

The ICO's helpline is 08456 30 60 60 or 01625 545745 (choose option 6).
25 March 2009


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