Construction union Ucatt has called on the government to outlaw blacklisting after an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that 40 construction firms have been buying confidential data on workers from a body called The Consulting Association (TCA), in secret, for the past 15 years.
A raid on the office of the TCA, based in Droitwich, Worcestershire, has revealed a serious breach of the Data Protection Act, according to the ICO.
The objective of buying and then holding this confidential information is thought to have been to help employers steer clear of disruption that follows the footsteps of union militants, according to a report in Personnel Today’s sister title Contract Journal.
The ICO said a secret system was run for more than 15 years, enabling employers to unlawfully vet job applicants.
Action is being considered against more than 40 firms who used the service (see full list below).
Comments entered against individuals’ names included such entries as “lazy and a trouble stirrer”, “ex-shop steward definite problems No Go”, and “Communist Party”.
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of Ucatt, said: “Our members know from bitter experience of being refused work that blacklisting exists in construction. However, the extent of the practice and the fact that most of the major companies in construction are involved in the practice is truly shocking. It is outrageous that construction workers have been barred from jobs simply for being trade unionists.”
Business secretary Lord Mandelson has welcomed the intervention of the information commissioner.
“He will need to look into this further to see whether these practices are more widespread and take the appropriate action, as he’s already done in this case,” Mandelson commented.
Employers paid £3,000 as an annual fee plus a further £2.20 for individual details, the ICO said. Invoices to construction firms for up to £7,500 were reported to have been seized during the raid.
The ICO has served an Enforcement Notice ordering the TCA’s owner to stop using the system. The TCA is under pressure to cease trading altogether.
The ICO revealed that the owner had failed to notify it [the ICO] of the fact that it was acting as a data controller.
ICO deputy information commissioner David Smith said: “Trading people’s personal details in this way is unlawful, and we are determined to stamp out this type of activity.”
Ian Kerr of Droitwich, Worcestershire, who ran TCA, is said to have had a database of 3,213 workers.
The ICO lists the companies that subscribed to the Consulting Association. The use of brackets indicates where companies have undergone a change of name or where subsidiaries have been absorbed by parent companies. Ex-members may no longer exist or no longer avail themselves of Kerr’s service.
The 40 construction firms named by the Information Commissioner’s Office
Amec Ind Div
Amec Process & Energy
Amey Construction – Ex Member
B Sunley & Sons – Ex Member
Ballast (Wiltshire) – Ex Member
Bam Construction (HBC Construction)
Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nuttall)
C B & I
Cleveland Bridge UK
Crown House Technologies (Carillion/Tarmac Const)
Diamond M & E Services
Dudley Bower & Co – Ex Member
Emcor (Drake & Scull) – ‘Ex Ref’
G Wimpey – Ex Member
John Mowlem -Ex Member
Laing O’Rourke (Laing)
Lovell Construction (UK) – Ex Member
Miller Construction – Ex Member
Morrison Construction Group -Ex Member
N G Bailey
Shepherd Engineering Services
Sias Building Services
Sir Robert McAlpine
Skanska (Kvaerner/Trafalgar House)
SPIE (Matthew Hall) – Ex Member
Taylor Woodrow Construction – Ex Member
Turriff Construction -Ex Member
Tysons Contractors – Ex Member
Walter Llewellyn & Sons – Ex Member
Whessoe Oil & Gas
Willmott Dixon – Ex Member
Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group)
In January, the House of Lords ruled that thousands of care workers could sue the government for compensation for being unfairly blacklisted. Law lords ruled that because care workers in England who have been accused of harming children or vulnerable adults are put on a provisional blacklist before any investigation, they are denied a fair hearing.