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Leigh Day launch High Court legal action For ‘blacklisted’ GMB members

Leigh Day, acting on behalf of the GMB union, have begun legal action at the High Court on behalf of GMB members allegedly blacklisted

4 June 2013

Leigh Day, acting on behalf of the GMB union, have begun legal action at the High Court on behalf of GMB members allegedly blacklisted by Carillion and other construction employers. 70 members have been identified as having claims.

It is the first High Court case taken by a trade union against alleged blacklisting. Whilst this is the initial group of cases against the construction industry, lawyers from Leigh Day believe the number of claims will grow as those affected become aware that they may have been denied work due to blacklisting.

Michael Newman, from the employment team at Leigh Day, confirmed that the firm had been contacted by over 100 members of the GMB union. The GMB is seeking redress for workers kept out of work as a direct result of an alleged unlawful conspiracy by construction employers to blacklist workers. The cases are on behalf of GMB members from across Scotland, England and Wales.

Blacklisting came to light when in 2009 when the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) seized a database of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists used by 44 companies to vet new recruits. The database was run by a firm calling itself The Consulting Association.

The Consulting Association received subscriptions from 42 of the UK's biggest construction companies for keeping records of individuals, predominantly trade unionists, who had raised concerns about pay, conditions or other health and safety related matters with their employer, or at the construction sites, if they were employed via an agency.

Individuals who subscribed to the organisation could request information on individuals who applied to them for work or who were suggested to them by employment agencies, supplying workers within the construction trade. For a fee, the individual construction company could pay to have the details searched for the named individual amongst the data held.

If the information that was returned suggested that the individual had taken any action that was detrimental then employment would be refused. A range of codes were also used to suggest employment be refused. The information was often incorrect.

Even where correct, employment was refused for reasons such as reporting to the employer that the toilet facilities were inadequate, or that worker health and safety maybe at risk. Often petty things led to a workers inclusion on the list. Over 60% of those on the blacklist were aged between 30 and 50 in the mid 1990s. They were mainly active trade union lay leaders on construction sites.

Many of them are now nearing retirement age with no pension arrangements. Whilst many construction firms are accused of blacklisting, the GMB has seen documentary evidence showing that 224 construction workers from around the UK were victims of blacklisting by Carillion.

The GMB estimates that in one quarter Carillion checked 2,776 names with the Consulting Association and in the period from October 1999 to April 2004 it estimates that Carillion checked at least 14,724 names.

Michael Newman, from Leigh Day, said: “We are absolutely confident that the High Court will find that substantial compensation are due from the construction industry for what was effectively a black market in destroying workers’ reputations and job prospects.

“Not only was this database hidden, but also much of the information on it was irrelevant or just plain wrong. This didn’t stop companies from trying to profit from blacklisting, by keeping union workers off projects so they could meet project deadlines, regardless of concerns about health and safety, or working conditions.

“Workers are only now finding out about this scandalous practice, and are rightly outraged.”

Maria Ludkin, GMB National Officer for Legal and Corporate Affairs said:

“GMB is pleased to be the first union to bring this wide ranging High Court action on behalf of our members. “Finally construction companies will be called to account for their systematic campaign to wipe out union organization on construction sites. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are nearly 3,000 other workers with claims. The ICO needs to start acting like a serious regulator and let these victims know so that they can join this claim for damages”

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