Unite construction members were among the dozens of trade unionists who descended on Parliament to demand justice for blacklisted workers on today’s (December 6) national day of action.
Workers were joined by Labour MPs who have pledged to make the case for a full public inquiry into historic and contemporary blacklisting, which has seen thousands of workers struggle to find work, some for decades, because of their trade union activity or for raising health and safety concerns.
Unite member and advanced scaffolder Tony Seaman from Middlesbrough is among those who have been blacklisted.
“I’ve struggled to find work in my own town for twenty years – and I think it’s appalling,” he said. “It’s stopped me from putting food on the table for my kids. It’s forced me to work out of town but even that work has dried up.
“I’ve been finding it hard to get work again,” Seaman added. “I’ve had settlements from several employment tribunals – these companies are reluctant to go to court; they just want to pay you off and still not give you any work. I think that’s not right – it’s scandalous.”
Seaman says he knows others who’ve had it much worse.
“I know people who have been out work for forty years,” he explained.
While Unite has secured millions of pounds in compensation for hundreds of blacklisted workers last year as part of the blacklisting scandal that was first revealed in 2009, the fight for justice is far from over.
Now, Unite is bringing forward a new legal action, representing 70 blacklisted workers, against four individuals who were in charge of the Consulting Association, the organisation which put together the blacklist.
David Cochrane and Cullum McAlpine, previously of Sir Robert McAlpine; Danny O’Sullivan, previously from Kier; and Stephen Quant, previously of Skanska are now in the dock over unlawful conspiracy, breach of privacy, defamation and Data Protection Act offences.
In addition to supporting members who were victims of the historic blacklisting scandal, Unite is also protecting workers from blacklisting that continues to this day.
Unite convenor Trevor Simpson helped uncover blacklisting recently, he told UNITElive.
“A member got the job at a site but when he turned up for his induction, he was suddenly told he was no longer needed,” Simpson explained. “He got in touch with me and we traced it back – the company said the member had raised health and safety concerns at a previous company and were told by that previous company not to employ him.”
While the member has got his job back thanks to Unite’s intervention, the incident is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Blacklisting is a scourge,” Simpson noted. “It’s part of a bigger picture of worker mistreatment. It’s about keeping the workforce in fear – it’s not just blacklisting but this is all connected to other problems such as gangmasters, modern slavery and so on.
In addition to a full public inquiry, Unite is calling for blacklisting to be made into a criminal offense, and for the government to have strict procurement rules so that blacklisting companies don’t benefit from public contracts.
The Labour Party has thrown its full support behind Unite’s demands.
“In my constituency in Wigan and many others throughout the country, we have got workers who’ve been blacklisted who’ve lost their livelihoods and many of them have lost their homes,” Labour MP Lisa Nandy told UNITElive. “The impact on them and their families has been absolutely horrendous.”
“That’s why we’re calling for a public inquiry and we’re trying to draw attention to what has happened and ultimately we want to secure justice for those workers.”
While Unite members lobbied their MPs at Parliament today, in towns and cities up and down the country Unite organised protests to bring greater awareness of blacklisting and workers’ fight for justice.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail explained the multifaceted approach the union is taking to end blacklisting once and for all.
“Unite is leading the way on the campaign against blacklisting,” she said. “The role we’re playing is to bring the issue to the politics of our country, to the heart of country — to Westminster, to Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly – so we have a political campaign.
“We have an industrial campaign – we’re representing workers in sites across the country to get them into work, and of course we have our legal campaign. We’re going to weave these three strands together – political, industrial and legal – to make a very strong rope to hang blacklisters forever.”