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Blacklisters’ public funds bonanza

Unite presents evidence to UN on gov’t failures
Ashraf Choudhury, Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Companies guilty of blacklisting workers have enjoyed a share in a £1.5bn bonanza of Scottish taxpayers’ money according to Unite.


The figure is revealed as Unite Scotland prepares to present evidence to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva today (June 15) on how the governments of both Holyrood and Westminster have failed to protect working people.


Human rights

According to Unite, Scotland’s biggest union, multi-million contracts to provide services to the NHS, Network Rail, local authorities and the Scottish prison service represent only a small sample of those awarded via the public procurement process by the Scottish government and are in clear breach of Holyrood’s own guidance that its procedures must be ‘compatible with human rights’.


Unite has been called before the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to presents its case for renewed action to prevent blacklisting companies from winning lucrative public spending contracts but the union will also seek to address the fresh attack on workers’ rights led by the Westminster government’s recently passed Trade Union Act.


Unite’s deputy Scottish secretary, Mary Alexander, will give evidence to the UN on behalf of the union as it continues its long-running campaign to get justice for thousands of workers denied a right to earn their living by blacklisting anti-union employers. In 2015, the UN also stated that it was committed to seeking further clarification on the treatment of workers in the UK.


Unite will be joined by another major union Unison. Both unions will argue that UN conventions on trade union membership and freedom of association have been breached by both the Scottish and UK governments, specifically articles 6, 7 and 8 of the convention in relation to the Trade Union Act and the blacklisting of workers, pointing specifically to companies that have admitted blacklisting workers continuing to receive procurement contracts from the Scottish Government


According to Unite, the new Act has been designed to make it extremely difficult for workers to take lawful industrial action to defend themselves, while exorbitant employment tribunal fees have put justice beyond the reach of millions of working people.


Shining a spotlight

“The practices of our governments in both Edinburgh and Westminster in relation to working people have caused alarm at United Nations, so much so that they have taken the decision that they must shine a spotlight onto the murkier happenings in our workplaces,” said Unite Scottish deputy regional secretary Mary Alexander, ahead of the evidence session.


“Taxpayers in Scotland will be angry to learn that these huge sums of public money are going to companies that have a record for mistreating ordinary working people,” she added. “They will want the Scottish government to stand by its pledge that contracts awarded by the government honour its stated respect for human rights.


“We are also extremely glad that the dreadful approach to workers’ rights more widely by the UK government has not gone unnoticed by the UN.  From extortionate fees for employment tribunals to the assault on trades unions, the most basic human rights are being violated by the UK government.  What sort of message does this send to working people about whose side they are on?


“Of course, we are honoured to be able to take our case on behalf of UK workers to the UN, but it gives us no pride that our governments’ actions are such that they cause international concern,” Alexander noted. “We sincerely hope that this intervention by the UN is a wake-up call to our governments to get their priorities right and start defending the human rights of working people.”


Public inquiry

The union has been fighting for an independent public inquiry into blacklisting to establish the facts behind how workers’ names appeared in a secret dossier run by the Consulting Association set up by, and used by construction companies across the UK.  Workers on these lists found themselves subsequently blacklisted from receiving work on grounds of trade union membership or for raising health and safety concerns.


Earlier this year, Unite and other unions successfully pursued over 30 construction companies through the High Court, resulting in an order that the companies must admit their guilt and to disclose information relating to the blacklisting of workers.


Unite is demanding an independent public inquiry, similar to the Pitchford Inquiry on undercover policing, to establish the facts surrounding blacklisting.  The union also wants clarity on the extent of the involvement of the police service in providing information on workers to the Consulting Association.


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