A thing of the past?

The Government has drafted legislation to outlaw union blacklisting. But is it
needed these days? Compiled by Eliza o’driscoll

Paul Kearns
HR strategist and director of PWC

I have been in the game for a long time and my first job in 1978 was
industrial relations. We used the Economic League, an organisation which
compiled lists of ‘undesirables’ and would be able tell you if anyone you were
thinking of hiring fell into this category. It no longer exists.

I’m not sure that was a very enlightened approach to dealing with union
activists. If I was recruiting, I would definitely like to know if someone had
a history of union activism, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t employ

Any recruitment process aims to weed out people who are not suitable for your
particular job. Being a union activist would certainly not justify blacklisting
in itself, however, I’m not sure how you could frame effective legislation that
would prevent it. It is a bit like age discrimination, which is very difficult
to prove. You get a picture of a candidate based on a whole range of factors
that affect your decision whether to employ them. Union activities are just one
of those and it would be difficult to say whether it was the deciding factor in
whether to hire someone.

It is an indictment of our whole approach to management that we still have
strong unions and an attitude to them that you might want to blacklist union
activists. I’d like to think we are a bit more enlightened these days. This
legislation is a symptom rather than the disease – if we had modern enlightened
management practices, it simply shouldn’t be necessary.

Union troublemakers in the past found fertile ground to work on because of
poor management, and that fertile ground just shouldn’t be there.

Diane Sinclair
Lead adviser on public policy, CIPD

We do not have any evidence of
blacklisting by employers, and our members have not raised this as an issue.
However, we have not done any research in the area.

We are pleased that the Government will not put the regulations
forward without investigating current practice, and therefore we will not have
to deal with them unless there is a problem to address.

Good employers will not be concerned about these regulations,
in any case. Current management practice has moved on. We see this as the
Government meeting its promise to look into this issue made in the Fairness at
Work White Paper.

Sarah Veale
Employment policy officer, TUC

We would disagree with any form of
blacklisting. People should not face any discrimination for membership of a
trade union, so the Government seems to be doing the right thing. The Human
Rights Act is only directly enforceable against public authorities so some
legislation is necessary to extend the rights under Article 11 to employees.

What happened in the 1980s was the Economic League was selling
lists of names to companies, but that sort of systematic collection of the
names of union activists has disappeared. What you get now is consultants
providing people with the names of people who have applied to employment

Employers may seek to pick up information from local papers, or
in various ways which the regulations don’t cover. However, employers are now
aware that they should be doing things differently.

Malcolm fiddler
Vice-president of HR service, Airbus

The issue doesn’t arise for us, as we
don’t keep union blacklists. Many of our employees are members of trade unions.
We work in partnership with the unions we recognise and we consider ourselves
to be a good employer.

Airbus is fully supportive of trade union membership and would
not countenance discrimination on those grounds.

David Bradley
Head of employment law, DLA

This does not even hit our radar
screen. I would see it as the Government closing a narrow gap. It is a fair
thing. You shouldn’t have people who are not employed because of a particular
belief or activity.

Most of the regulations seem to be building on what is already
there. It is probably something that the Government felt it had to revisit in
the light of the trade union compulsory recognition provisions. I cannot recall
an instance of coming across a client who has engaged in blacklisting or
receiving an allegation from a trade union that a client has engaged in

Things aimed at curbing recruitment activity are enormously
difficult to prove. I would be very interested to see how many complaints there
are, because in nearly 20 years of practice I’ve never seen one.

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