Government ‘washes its hands’ on blacklisting as Unite intervenes to resolve new case

Unite, the UK’s largest union for construction workers, is disappointed but not surprised that the government is once again washing its hands on blacklisting. 

The news comes at a time when Unite has intervened to resolve a fresh case of contemporary blacklisting. 

Following a debate initiated by Chuka Ummuna MP on blacklisting earlier this month, Chris Stephens MP wrote to the junior business minister Margot James MP asking the government to take action to bar blacklisters from public sector contracts. 

Mr Stephens has now received a reply which shows that the government will not intervene in barring blacklisters from public sector contracts. In her letter Margot James said: “It is up to individual contracting authorities to apply these measures and take steps to be confident in the current practices of their contractors.” 

The government latest hand washing episode coincides with Unite, once again, intervening to ensure that a member who experienced contemporary blacklisting has been reinstated. 

The Unite member was employed on a major construction project in London by sub-contractor Metalyapi, a Turkish company that specialises in steel frame roof glazing. 

A major safety incident occurred on the site where a steel frame was nearly dropped from a tower crane. As a result of this near miss, our member raised several health and safety issues. Sometime after the incident he concluded his work with the company. 

Later he then applied and was accepted for work with a different company on the same project. He was given a start and underwent his induction and was then told there was no position for him. 

He got in touch with the Unite convenor on the site who contacted the main contractor’s head office and found that the worker had a spotless employment and safety record and there was no issue with re-employing him. 

When the convenor spoke to the company that had refused him work he was told: “You would not want him on site anyway as he cost the contractor a lot of money”. It had transpired the company had asked Metalyapi about our member, which had illegally said that he should not be employed. 

The Unite convenor made it clear that this was illegal and Unite would pursue the case through legal channels. At which point it was agreed the worker would be reinstated and would suffer no loss for initially being refused work. The worker has gone on to work very successfully with the company and is expected to be recruited onto future projects. 

The case is significant as it highlights the informal contemporary blacklisting which Unite is identifying in construction. Rather than the formal centralised blacklisting of the Consulting Association, contemporary blacklisting often occurs with sub-contractors and agencies illegally sharing information on workers who have raised employment or safety concerns. 

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “Once again the government is washing its hands on blacklisting at a time when Unite is uncovering more new cases. What you get with this government is warm words but no action. 

“This latest case demonstrates that blacklisting hasn’t disappeared but it is now taking a different form and highlights why we need proper rules to stamp out blacklisting once and for all. 

“Even after the Consulting Association scandal construction companies remain all too willing to blacklist workers for raising safety concerns. 

“Publicly companies claim to take safety seriously and then behind the scenes many victimise workers for raising issues. The industry will never resolve its safety problems while these practices still exist. 

“This case demonstrates why it is essential that workers are members of Unite and that the union has strong organisation on sites. Without the work of Unite’s convenor our member would have been denied work. 

“When Unite identifies blacklisting we will do everything in our power whether industrially, legally or politically to identify the culprits and win justice for our members.”