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Union activist wins blacklisting tribunal

16 Nov 10 Contractor CB&I has been found guilty by an employment tribunal of blacklisting a prominent trade unionist.

An employment judge at Ashford Employment Tribunal ruled that steel erector Phil Willis had been unlawfully refused employment by the US contractor because he was blacklisted as a prominent union activist for Unite. Willis was awarded £18,375 in damages.

The operation of a blacklist in the construction industry was proved beyond doubt on 6 March 2009 when the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) raided the office of an organisation known as The Consulting Association (TCA). It found a list of more 3,000 construction workers and discovered that up to 40 firms in the industry were buying information on workers and blacklisting trade unionists.

Willis, a Unite member since 1968, applied for a job in 2007 on a CB&I project on the Isle of Grain, where it was expanding an LNG terminal. His application was acknowledged, but he was not contacted again. CB&I was a subscriber to TCA. Willis obtained a copy of his file held by TCA which contained information about his trade union activity.

Following the raid by the ICO in March 2009, the government announced it would introduce legislation to outlaw blacklisting which became law in April 2010. However, Willis’ claim initially predated the new legislation and so he claimed under Section 137 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations(Consolidation) Act 1992 instead, since there was no specific legislation outlawing blacklisting at the time of his claim.

Tom Hardacre, Unite's national officer for construction, said: "It is the first successful case against a major construction company, but it will not be the last. The union is currently providing legal support to a number of workers who believe they have been blacklisted. Too many construction workers have suffered victimisation at the hands of unscrupulous employers. Unite intends to use the full force of the law to hold firms to account for systematically ruining people's livelihoods just because a few brave men were prepared to stand up for the rights of their fellow work colleagues."

Les Bayliss, Unite assistant general secretary, said: "This is a significant milestone but we believe the law should go further. Unite will be campaigning to strengthen the law on blacklisting to ensure employers do not even contemplate blacklisting trade union members."

CB&I, initially Chicago Bridge & Iron, expanded its UK presence in 2003 with the acquisition of John Brown Hydrocarbons.

CB&I, formerly Chicago Iron & Bridge, acquired John Brown Hydrocarbons Ltd in 2003.

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