Construction company found guilty of blacklisting prominent trade unionist

A major construction contractor has been found guilty by an employment tribunal of blacklisting a prominent trade unionist.

On 10 November, at Ashford Employment Tribunal, an employment judge ruled that Unite member, Mr Phil Willis, had been unlawfully refused employment by CB&I because he is a member of a trade union, a prominent activist and was blacklisted because of this. He was awarded £18,375 in damages.

On 6 March 2009, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) raided the office of an organisation known as The Consulting Association (TCA) and found a list of over 3,000 workers in the construction industry. It was discovered that a practice was operating whereby up to 40 firms in the industry were buying information on workers and blacklisting trade unionists.

Mr Willis is a steel erector. He has been a member of Unite since 1968. In 2007 CB&I were involved in a major engineering and construction project at the Isle of Grain. Mr Willis submitted an application to CB&I for work as a steel erector on the Isle of Grain project. Although his application was acknowledged, he was not contacted again. CB&I were subscribers to TCA and used the services of TCA extensively. Mr Willis obtained a copy of his intelligence file held by TCA which contained information about his trade union activity.

Following the raid by the ICO in March 2009, the government announced it would introduce legislation to outlaw blacklisting which became law in April 2010. Unite had consistently argued that the blacklisting of construction workers was taking place. Mr Willis brought his claim under different legislation (section 137 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations.(Consolidation) Act 1992) as there was no specific legislation outlawing blacklisting at the time of his claim.

Tom Hardacre, Unite’s national officer for construction, said: “It is the first successful case against a major construction company, but it will not be the last. The union is currently providing legal support to a number of workers who believe they have been blacklisted. Too many construction workers have suffered victimisation at the hands of unscrupulous employers. Unite intends to use the full force of the law to hold firms to account for systematically ruining people’s livelihoods just because a few brave men were prepared to stand up for the rights of their fellow work colleagues.”

Les Bayliss, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “This is a significant milestone but we believe the law should go further. Unite will be campaigning to strengthen the law on blacklisting to ensure employers do not even contemplate blacklisting trade union members.”



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