UNION ACTION FORCES BLACKLISTING U-TURN
Yesterday’s announcement by eight major construction companies that they would develop a scheme to compensate those workers who were blacklisted by the industry is a welcome step forward, as is the apology for their involvement.
Workers on the blacklist were denied work, often for merely raising legitimate concerns about health and safety on building sites. We will have to wait and see whether the proposed scheme will reflect the serious emotional and financial distress that the workers suffered, but the fact that the companies are now admitting their involvement and accepting that workers have suffered is a huge sea-change from the denials that they were making just a few months ago. So what brought this about?
The companies are not setting up the compensation scheme from any sense of morality; they are doing it because they have been forced to by the joint work done by the three main construction unions and the dogged determination of the workers themselves through the Blacklist Support Group.
Following union pressure, many local authorities and the Welsh Government were saying that they were not going to award public sector contracts to those companies that refused to make amends. This would have hit them in their pockets. They were also facing hundreds of union-supported claims in the courts that would have cost them a huge amount in legal costs, and would also have revealed even more details of the murky and illegal practices that were rife in the construction industry.
Without the work of the Blacklist Support Group and the strong support and organising ability of the three unions, GMB, UCATT and Unite, the scandal would have been a minor embarrassment that would have been forgotten after a few weeks. Instead it became a huge problem for the industry and the Government (who refused to do anything), and had the potential of seriously threatening the public contracts of the companies involved.
Of course, however welcome this move is, it is only the start. The scheme has not yet been set up, and many of the workers on the blacklist have still not been contacted. Also only eight of the forty four companies involved have signed up so far.
While compensation is welcome, the industry should also be trying to get all the blacklisted workers back into work by offering them jobs and, where they want, retraining.
Equally important is that the full extent of blacklisting has never been revealed despite attempts by the Scottish Affairs Committee who have been investigating the companies. We still need a full public inquiry into blacklisting as well as strong legislation to protect workers in all industries. Only then can we be sure that this scandal will never be repeated.
The TUC is organising a Day of Action on Blacklisting on 20th November. This will include a lobby of parliament. Let’s make sure that this kind of scandal is never allowed to happen again.