Mr Chairman, for the avoidance of doubt, and because I am sure that some Conservative councillors will seek to indulge in party-political point-scoring, I should tell you that I am a member of the Unite union, and my colleague Cllr Patience is a member of the GMB union. I do not regard this as a prejudicial interest, any more than I regard being a resident of Suffolk as a prejudicial interest, in seeking to ensure that this council does everything it can to uphold the law and fair employment regulations, and protects those working for it – whether directly or through contracts – from abuses in the workplace and from dangerous practices.
In March 2009 the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the offices of the Consulting Association and exposed the existence of a blacklist containing the details of 3,213 construction workers. They also found that the blacklist had been used by over 40 UK construction companies.
As a result of that raid, the Consulting Association was closed down and new Blacklisting regulations were introduced in April 2010.
The existence of the blacklist came as no surprise to trade unions or their members in the construction industry who have maintained for years that they are often excluded from employment due to their membership of a Trade Union or for simply raising concerns over health & safety in what is the most dangerous industry in the UK.
Over one third of all workplace fatalities in the UK are in the construction industry – and that includes highways construction projects. The trade unions play a vital part in ensuring that companies maintain good policies on bullying, lone working, ventilation, chemical safety, asbestos, protective equipment, and other areas of concern too numerous to mention. In addition, they seek to ensure that their members actually adhere to the company policies that are in place, so that they are actively engaged in making the workplace in this country a safe place to be.
Now evidence has emerged from the Crossrail project in London, and from the extensive investigation being carried out by the Scottish Affairs Committee into blacklisting, that several companies are still effectively operating the blacklisting system.
We believe that blacklisting is abhorrent and that those responsible for blacklisting should be subject to criminal penalties. Those companies found to be actively involved in blacklisting should also be excluded from public contracts. Wherever there is evidence that blacklisting has been used to exclude someone from work that person has a prime facie case to take to an employment tribunal. This authority should not wish to be subject to employment tribunal claims, nor to contract with companies which deliberately employ tactics for recruitment which will open them up to such claims.
We believe there needs to be a full public inquiry into this national scandal on the scale of the Leveson Inquiry, but in the meantime we call on this Council to disassociate itself from this pernicious practice, and urge the administration to put a clear line on the ground so that future contractors will be in no doubt of the folly of continuing to use blacklisting in their recruitment.
Cllr Sandy Martin, 18-07-2013