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Wednesday 16 January 2013

Building Blacklist Brings Media Silence

[Update at end of post]

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.

Government rather quiet on this one

The affair has come back into the spotlight after the Liverpool Echo revealed yesterday 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that Barron had left the project, but he was still there late last year – four years after the list should have been withdrawn.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?

Not that the press owners and right-leaning politicians are anti-union, of course.

[UPDATE 18 January 1800 hours: Balfour Beatty, who built the Aquatics Centre on the Olympic Park, has confirmed that it checked twelve individuals against the blacklist that should not have been in use after 2008.

It was claimed that all twelve were subsequently employed, and that the checks took place in 2008. Ian Kerr, former head of the Consulting Association, who died last month, named Balfour Beatty along with Sir Robert McAlpine and "possibly Skanska" as involved in Olympic contract blacklisting.

McAlpines and Skanska have strenuously denied any suggestion of blacklisting during work on the Olympics. But Kerr was the one dealing with enquiries, so he should have known]

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