Construction was very much in the dock this week as the blacklisting scandal engulfed the sector. In a Labour-led debate in the House of Commons Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna called on the construction firms that used the Consulting Association, which maintained the blacklist of workers, to apologise and to establish a compensation fund for victims deprived of work.
Labour’s Michael Meacher said blacklisting was the “worst human rights breach in the UK since the war”. A database of 3,000 names used to vet workers in the construction sector for more than 15 years was exposed by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009.
Meanwhile Business Secretary Vince Cable rejected calls for a Levenson-style public enquiry claiming that he could only launch a probe if there was hard evidence that the practice had taken place since it was outlawed in 2010.
Earlier in the week, Crossrail rejected union claims that blacklisting had taken place on the project, and called on Unite officials to produce any evidence they had on the “unsubstantiated” claims.
Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail chief executive said: “Crossrail Limited is not aware of, and has seen no evidence of, blacklisting of any kind in connection with the Crossrail project.
“If Unite has any evidence then we wish to see it; we have made this point a number of times and yet none has been forthcoming.
“All our contractors are fully aware that blacklisting is unlawful as well as being a breach of contract which would result in immediate action by Crossrail.”
However, in a week of rapid developments a second firm involved in building the venues for the Olympic Games admitted it had used a blacklist operated by the Consulting Association to vet workers.
Giving evidence to the committee of the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Cullum McAlpine, non-executive director at Sir Robert McAlpine, admitted the contractor used TCA to carry out checks during recruitment of Olympic workers to build the Olympic stadium. It follows earlier admissions that Balfour Beatty had used the blacklist.
Workers bidding to work on the London 2012 Olympic Games for Balfour Beatty were subject to blacklist checks, the firm has admitted, reported Building. Balfour Beatty, which built the Olympic Aquatics Centre, said it used the services of the (TCA) in 2008 to check on 12 prospective Olympics workers, all of whom were later employed.
Writing in the Guardian this week, Labour MP John Mann said: “We need an inquiry into this latest construction industry scandal. When a person’s life has been affected by a secret blacklist they need to have access to this information and they should have rights to compensation.”
1973 arrests cover up?
In further developments, the government has been accused of a “significant cover-up” after it refused to release all of the documents relating to the 1973 arrests of 24 builders, including Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson, for going on strike.
Ministers released some documents marked “Top Secret” and refused to divulge other details of the arrests of the “Shrewsbury 24” for at least another decade for reasons of national security.
Mr Tomlinson joined politicians and union leaders in calling for action to tackle the “scandal”. The Shrewsbury 24 were arrested and charged under the 1875 Conspiracy Act, with six sent to prison. They were taking part in a national strike for better pay and conditions.
Campaigners have urged the Criminal Cases Review Commission to overturn the charges. The ban on divulging any remaining information will be reviewed in 2021.