Settlements for ‘blacklisted’ construction workers could reach £75m

More than 250 building workers who were unfairly targeted by some of the UK’s biggest construction companies will share a £10 million payout, as the long-running legal battle over blacklisting in the industry looks to be drawing to a close.

The 256 Unite members join hundreds of other claimants from the GMB and Ucatt unions, as well as law firm CGR, which last month reached a separate settlement of £5.4 million.

GMB said the total value of settlements for all 771 claimants in the case is around £75 million, including legal costs on both sides estimated at £25 million. Some members could receive between £25,000 and £200,000 each.

More than 3,000 individuals were found to be on a ‘blacklist’ held by The Consulting Association (TCA), which was used by the construction industry to monitor and vet workers applying to work on building sites.

The blacklist resulted in hundreds of workers losing their jobs, and unable to secure new employment after being deemed ‘troublemakers’ and ‘bad eggs’.

When TCA was raided by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009, the personal information of 3,213 workers was found on file, including details of their trade union activities, political views and competence.

In October 2013, an alliance of eight major construction companies launched a compensation scheme for blacklisted workers.

Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci plc also issued an “unreserved apology” for their part in the vetting system, and the impact that the TCA database “may have had on any individual construction worker”.

In a joint statement released in response to the Unite settlement, the eight firms said the case would “draw a line under this matter”.

They vowed to “work together with the trade unions at national, regional and site level to ensure that the modern UK construction industry provides the highest standards of employment and HR practice for its workforce”.

Howard Beckett, Unite executive director for legal, membership and affiliated services, said: “In addition to financial compensation, admissions of guilt and formal apologies, the companies have agreed, as a result of this litigation, to issue guidance to site managers to ensure blacklisting is not occurring on a local level.

“However, what remains outstanding from the agreement is the legislative definition of blacklisting, as outlined in the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010.

“We view the secret vetting operation carried out by TCA as a blacklist, and hence in contravention of the Act.”

Beckett suggested further litigation might be in the pipeline, as the union called for the offending companies to face a government inquiry before engaging in any further public contracts.

Concerns over blacklisting, and HR’s role in the long-running scandal, have plagued the construction industry for years. In September 2013, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, strongly condemned the practice of blacklisting as he gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, saying HR “should be part of the solution”.

The CIPD’s Pre-employment checks: an employer’s guide aims to provide advice to employers across all sectors on how to conduct pre-employment checks in a responsible and ethical way.

“It clearly underlines the illegality of using blacklists in employment and their inappropriateness in any context,” Cheese said in his submission to the select committee.

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