Calls for a public inquiry into an ‘ongoing’ national scandal involving covert blacklisting of safety-campaigning workers by construction companies have been deflected by Stourbridge MP and Minister for Corporate Responsibility Margot James.
A simmering controversy about illegal blacklisting boiled over after the high-profile £27 million contract to refurbish Parliament’s Big Ben was awarded to the construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine.
Last year the company was among several forced to pay compensation to workers who lost their livelihoods after being targeted by a secret blacklisting network they financed.
The Sir Robert McAlpine company which worked on major hospital projects in Stourbridge and Dudley (see story below) was found to be a major player in a covert plot to freeze out safety-at-work campaigners and union officials from the entire building industry.
Now fresh allegations of blacklisting have emerged from the building of Crossrail, the controversial £14.8bn London rail line – Europe’s biggest ever infrastructure project – during a Parliamentary debate on Tuesday (Sept 5 2017).
The Mirror reported allegations by London Labour MP Chuka Umunna that workers are still being blacklisted by major firms for union activity or raising health and safety issues.
Mr Umunna told Ms James that he had seen emails passed between contractors and Crossrail last year, which showed workers were closely monitored and then denied further work.
He added: “The evidence which I will supply to the minister illustrates that a number of construction workers were being closely watched there and sensitive personal information was being collected in relation to them.”
At Tuesday’s debate Ms James faced renewed calls from MPs to relent over a decision not to hold a public inquiry but she instead insisted in a debate that the Government already ’takes a close interest in the matter’.
The original scandal came to light in 2009 when officials from the Information Commissioner raided the offices of the now-defunct Consulting Association. They uncovered details of around 3,000 construction workers that were shared by more than 40 of the country’s biggest construction companies to ‘vet’ employees.
Mr Umunna said in the debate that some of the information held about people on the list – their religion, national insurance number, car registrations and so on – strongly suggested that the data was collected ‘with the collusion of the police and/or security services’.
Birmingham Labour MP Jack Dromey told Ms James: “Blacklisting is a scandal which never went away. It blighted the lives of thousands of workers for many years and led to many of them being unable to find work.
“There needs to be an urgent public enquiry into the practice of blacklisting and stronger laws put in place to stop it continuing.
“There is no way companies which are complicit in blacklisting should be awarded public contracts.”
In her response, Ms James hinted that any new evidence of blacklisting should result in complicit companies being barred from public contracts.
She went on: “The Government will continue to take a very close interest in this matter. If the Information Commissioner finds any evidence of current blacklisting, perpetrators can expect to feel the full force of the law, and I am sure that that would have implications for contracting as well.
“In the meantime, 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 – the increased fines and accountability are further disincentives – to counter this abhorrent and illegal practice.”