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Blacklisted workers launch £600m legal action

30 Jul 12 The campaign for compensation for blacklisted construction workers has stepped up a gear with the lodging of a High Court claim against Sir Robert McAlpine that could potentially be worth £600m.

Solicitors Guney Clark & Ryan served a claim on behalf of 86 claimants for ‘Tort of unlawful conspiracy’ at the High Court last week.

The claimants are part of the Blacklist Support Group (BSG), a network campaigning on behalf of construction workers illegally blacklisted because of their trade union activities by major building contractors as part of The Consulting Association scandal first exposed in 2009.

The claim targets Sir Robert McAlpine as the company considered to have the worst record of blacklisting. The last invoice issued to the firm by The Consulting Association was for more than £28,000 for the use of the blacklisting service.

The conspiracy charge means that Sir Robert McAlpine would also be responsible for the actions of the 40-plus contractors such as Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska who systematically blacklisted workers who were considered disruptive, usually on the basis of trade union activism or membership.

Many of the claimants were dismissed repeatedly from major construction projects and in some cases suffered years of unemployment because of their union activities or for raising concerns about safety on building sites. It is believed that the larger claims are in the region of £300,000 for loss of earnings and hurt to feelings. The minimum award under the new blacklisting regulation introduced in 2010 is £5,000 (but the regulations do not retrospectively cover The Consulting Association victims). According to the BSG, the average claim has been estimated at £20,000, which values the current cases in excess of £17m. As this is the first wave of claimants, out of a possible 3,200 blacklisted workers, the total payouts the building firms could face exceeds £600m.

The blacklisted workers are being represented in the High Court by Sir Hugh Tomlinson QC, barrister to the stars in the News of the World phone hacking cases.

Mick Abbott, a 74-year-old ex-scaffolder, said: “This nearly ruined my marriage and it meant that my children were on free meals at school. My file goes back to 1964 and the last entry says that I rekindled the campaign for justice for the Shrewsbury picketers in 2006. They have been watching me all these years and passing this information around, blighting my life over four decades.”

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Steve Kelly, an electrician and spokesperson for the Blacklist Support Group said: “I was blacklisted because I was a union member and because I raised issues about safety. In 2007, [Sir Robert] McAlpine sacked me from the Colchester Barracks project after two days for refusing to work on a moving platform without proper training (exactly as we had been instructed in the site induction) – the dismissal is recorded on my blacklist file.

“Over the year I suffered severe financial strain, my wages were cut in half which caused immense stress paying bills and putting food on table. I was out of work for a year apart from few weeks here and there in 2001. Being sacked from Colchester Barracks after only two days piled up the stress and caused a nervous breakdown for me eventually.

“The blacklisting firms should be made to pay compensation for years lost and years in future. They should be made to employ blacklisted workers or not be awarded any public government backed contracts. An apology in national press and to individuals whose lives they ruined would be a start.”

The legal action follows an official complaint earlier this monmth lodged by the Blacklist Support Group with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) – the professional body for human resources. The complaint follows publication of a new code of conduct for CIPD members. The BSG says that five CIPD members in the construction industry were clearly in breach of five sections of the code in using the blacklist to veto construction workers’ employment.

The five that have been officially complained about are:

  • Gerry Harvey, director of human resources at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services
  • Elaine Gallagher, human resources manager at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services
  • Liz Keates, head of human resources at Carillion Health
  • John Edwards, manager at Carillion
  • David Cochrane, former head of human resources at Sir Robert McAlpine.

The BSG says that all five “actively participated in the illegal Consulting Association conspiracy that blacklisted trade union members in the construction industry. They either attended meetings or covertly supplied personal data on trade union members to the secret blacklist which was used to systematically deny work to 3200 individuals.”

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