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Blacklisting of 3213 construction workers

The official position was that blacklisting didn’t happen. Working on a story for The Guardian in 2008, journalist Phil Chamberlain followed a trail that led him to Manchester, where three electricians, sacked from the Royal Infirmary building project, successfully argued at an employment tribunal that they had been wrongly dismissed. There, a former manager gave evidence that blacklisting of union members had occurred. A few days after the article was published, the police started an investigation.

In February 2009 The Consulting Association was closed down. For more than 30 years 66-year-old private investigator Ian Kerr had been compiling secret blacklisting files on workers considered by managers to be politically troublesome, usually union members who had raised health-and-safety concerns. It started in 1969 with the Economic League, another covert body. 44 construction firms subscribed to Kerr’s system for a £3,500 annual fee. Companies could add information to the system and pay £2.20 for details held on individuals.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has revealed that some records could only have come from the police or MI5. There was a meeting between undercover police officers and those running the blacklist in November 2008.

The Consulting Association was fined £5,000 for breaching data protection law.

The vast majority of those who have attempted to gain redress through the courts have failed. Electrician Steve Kelly was one of the few to have won compensation, but said it was scant reward. “I got £2,400 compensation for 10 years of blacklisting.”

Construction union Ucatt announced it was to sue the firms for breach of confidence and misuse of private information found in their files. Steve Murphy, general secretary of Ucatt, said: “Blacklisting companies wilfully destroyed the lives of ordinary construction workers and acted as though they were above the law. Our legal action will ensure that the victims receive the justice they deserve.”

The Labour government significantly tightened the law on blacklisting in 2010. Companies that blacklist workers for taking part in trade union activity face being barred from multibillion-pound public sector contracts.

Keith Ewing, professor of public law at King’s College London, calls it the “worst human rights abuse in relation to workers” in Britain in half a century.

Ian Kerr died in 2012. Shortly before his death, he appeared before parliament and told MPs: “Like it or not, blacklisting will always be there.”

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