Builders were refused work for raising safety concerns – we need a public inquiry now

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This article was first published in the i News on 4th September, 2017.

Imagine you spent years acquiring the skills to work on construction sites around the country. No one ever complained about the quality of your work or your work ethic. You were an active member of your trade union and then, on one occasion, you raised a serious health and safety concern – no small matter given the numbers who have died on construction sites. But ever since, you have not been able to get work.

This is what has happened to thousands of construction workers for decades, and no one has ever been brought to book for it.

A secret list

Blacklisting – the secretive practice of sharing information on workers and denying them employment on the basis of that information – hit the headlines in 2009, when the Information Commissioner’s Office raided an organisation called the Consulting Association.

The ICO found a blacklist of more than 3,000 construction workers funded and used for years by more than 40 of our country’s construction companies to vet potential employees.

This facilitated the systematic victimisation and denial of work to people simply because they had raised health and safety concerns in the past – or because they were a member of a political party or union. Appallingly, the nature of some of the personal information (a person’s religion, national insurance number, car registration and so on) suggests it may have come with the collusion of the police or security services.

The construction companies fed the association this data without workers’ knowledge. And whenever hiring decisions were made, applicants’ names were checked against the association’s list. If you were on it, you were refused work.

The association was shut down soon after it was exposed in 2009, but the victims of the blacklisting have never had full justice. Not one director of a construction company has been properly held to account.

It’s still going on

In spite of recent parliamentary debates demanding a public inquiry into blacklisting, including one that I instigated earlier this year, successive coalition and Tory governments have refused to set up one on the basis of a lack of evidence it is still going on.

But I have seen evidence – which I will present to ministers – that shows it is. Our trade unions have done vital work uncovering all of this.

A public inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of what has been going on and to ensure that all those responsible are held accountable.