The media’s continued silence on blacklisting of unionised builders


by Tim Fenton    
9:30 am - January 17th 2013

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In 2008, an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) closed down the now infamous construction industry blacklist, issuing enforcement notices to companies shown to have been using it.

But, as with Phonehackgate, there has been remarkably selective reporting of the whole business, with many media outlets silent, and no protest from the libertarian fringe, either.

The affair has come back into the spotlight after the Liverpool Echo revealed Tuesday that more than 150 of the names on the blacklist were from Merseyside. Those men were unable to find work for many years, and to make matters worse, some of the firms who used the blacklist have been awarded, or are contenders for, public sector contracts in the region.

So why would names appear on the blacklist? Trade union activity was the main driver – the construction industry has a history of trying to exclude unions whenever and wherever it can get away with it – along with voicing concerns about health and safety issues. Those on the list were never told of its existence, let alone that they were on it. Some of the information held was irrelevant and personally intrusive.

And the fallout from blacklisting has even reached the Crossrail project, with industrial relations manager Ron Barron revealed as a former devotee of the list, and who appears to have been using it to cross-check names for his then berth. Crossrail advised later that Barron had left the project, but he was still therelate last year – four years after the list should have been withdrawn.

How important is this? Very. And anyone who claims to favour personal liberty and freedom might be expected to want to see this kind of practice expunged. But, while the usual suspects in the Fourth Estate are more than happy to rail against business regulation, constraints on motorists, and above all anything to do with Leveson, you’ll see nothing on this in the Sun, Mail, Express or Telegraph.

Moreover, those champions of freedom and liberty out on the right are similarly blind to this kind of behaviour. Freedom is A Very Wonderful Thing for them, unless it extends to the freedom to join a trade union. The silence on an obvious and deliberate restraint on attempts to become gainfully employed is also telling – so free market high principles clearly have limits.

Public sector projects where workers were blacklisted were not insignificant, either: the Olympic Park and projects including Portcullis House, the Admiralty, the Ministry of Defence’s Whitehall HQ, GCHQ, the Jubilee line and the new Wembley stadium all featured. So isn’t it time that this practice was finally stamped out and the victims properly compensated? And why is central Government so quiet on the subject?

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About the author
Tim is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs more frequently at Zelo Street
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Media

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Reader comments


I wonder, why would the press, who use so many unpaid interns, want to avoid this issue?

Of course, Ian Kerr, who kept the blacklist is rather conveniently dead.

Which only goes to prove, yet again, our so called free press ,that under no circumstance must be regulated for the good of freedom…….or something.

Is nothing more than the propaganda arm of the global corporate elite.

Considering worker safety and employment standards are entrenched in 2000+ pages of regulation and law I see no reason for the Unions to exist. Employment claims can be taken out by anyone and the Tribunals are a quick and relatively informal way to determine disputes.

“Freedom is A Very Wonderful Thing for them, unless it extends to the freedom to join a trade union”

Where are the ‘right’ preventing people from joining a union.

Shouldn’t freedom mean employers are free to employ whoever they want?

Freeman: ‘Considering worker safety and employment standards are entrenched in 2000+ pages of regulation and law I see no reason for the Unions to exist. Employment claims can be taken out by anyone and the Tribunals are a quick and relatively informal way to determine disputes.’

Considering criminal and civil standards are entrenched in [insert number] pages of regulation and law, I see no reason for the police to exist. Criminal and civil claims can be pursued by anyone, and going to a solicitor and then the courts is a quick and relatively informal way to settle such matters.

Of course, in the real world, it helps to have specialist bodies capable of giving expert advice: it’s for this reason that not only do workers join and consult unions, but also that employers join and consult broadly equivalent sources of expert advice.

Fungus: ‘Shouldn’t freedom mean employers are free to employ whoever they want?’

Would that include the ‘freedom’ to discriminate based on age, sex and/or race?

Any sensible discussion of liberty accepts that the exercise of freedoms by one party can result in the infringement of the freedoms of another party. And proceeding from this basis, then attempts to work out how best to attain a just balance.

With respect, I think the collapse in builders wages since EU enlargement is a lot more important. The media’s quiet about that, too.

@6. Feodor

“Considering criminal and civil standards are entrenched in [insert number] pages of regulation and law, I see no reason for the police to exist. Criminal and civil claims can be pursued by anyone, and going to a solicitor and then the courts is a quick and relatively informal way to settle such matters.”

You fail to understand the distinction between the two, criminal and civil. Something is civil because broadly it does not include the immediate physical danger to a person. If your employer fires you, you will not walk out of the office with a cut to the head. If however you get attacked on the street, you are in danger of being physically harmed. That is the requirement for police, to prevent harm and apprehend offending. The analogy with criminal situations is no where close to being similar. The distinction is so massive that the example you draw hardly demands anymore time.

Take it from an employment barrister. In my experience, unions do pretty close to nothing for workers in legal disputes, they bring little if any expertise to the table and again, serve little purpose. The only thing it seems I land up doing is correcting for clients what a union has promised will happen for them. It is not expert advice. The expert advice on employment law comes from employment lawyers. Not people who think they understand employment law because they took a two week course.

Some unions no doubt are more sensible and capable than others. However, that does not detract from the fact that they serve no purpose over and above an employment lawyer, or indeed an HR department as a first port of call.


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