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Scottish Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 156
Taken before the Scottish Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 4 September 2012
Mr Ian Davidson (Chair)
Mr Alan Reid
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary, Unite, Justin Bowden, National Officer, GMB, and Harry Donaldson, Regional Secretary, GMB Scotland, gave evidence.
Q602 Chair: May I welcome you to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee? I apologise for the delay. As you know, we were discussing the coastguard stations. That delayed us slightly, and we overran.
First, I ask you to introduce yourselves and say which organisations you represent. We can then get straight into our questions.
Gail Cartmail: My name is Gail Cartmail. I am the Assistant General Secretary of Unite. The union is responsible for a number of sectors, including construction.
Harry Donaldson: I am Harry Donaldson, GMB regional secretary for Scotland. I am obviously responsible for managing Scotland.
Justin Bowden: I am Justin Bowden, GMB national officer.
Q603 Jim McGovern: Obviously, I have met Justin and Harry before. I am pleased to meet you, Gail. I thank everyone for coming along.
May I ask our three witnesses generally whether they believe that blacklisting is still widespread in the UK? It was supposed to be outlawed since March 2010, but the impression that I get speaking to people in my constituency in Dundee is that it still goes on.
Q604 Chair: Before you answer, having checked with the Clerk, it is the case that the answers that you provide us with today are covered by parliamentary privilege. Should anybody outside object to what you say, they will not be able to take the legal action that they might wish should you repeat something like that outside. There will be a number of occasions when we press you for examples of particular companies that you believe are undertaking various activities, and we want to reassure you that you are covered by privilege. Also covered by privilege will be any submissions that you make to us in writing that we subsequently publish. You can be completely open with us, knowing that you will be protected.
Gail Cartmail: In the period during which I have been responsible for construction, I have met many highly qualified mechanical and electrical engineers. They are highly qualified bearing in mind that, even in the current state of the sector, there is a skills crisis. I have met people who are suitably qualified for work who are not engaged for work. Equally, I have met qualified electrical and mechanical engineers who have been spuriously selected for redundancy. They are health and safety representatives and workplace representatives.
One firm in particular is Balfour Beatty Engineering Services. One of our members, Stewart Hume, was interviewed by a manager called Gerry Harvey who, if I can put it in the vernacular, has form on blacklisting. The Committee may say that we could pursue the victimisation of trade union activities, but I am absolutely convinced that Stewart Hume will never be engaged by Balfour Beatty Engineering Services following his redundancy.
Q605 Jim McGovern: On the basis of his trade union activities.
Gail Cartmail: I am absolutely convinced of that.
Q606 Jim McGovern: Gail, is your remit the construction industry?
Gail Cartmail: It is one of the sectors that I cover, but I was asked to investigate blacklisting as a result of an organisation called BMS-Beaver Management Services-which is an agency that was prepared to reveal to us unredacted files that had been disclosed as a result of its having faced an allegation of blacklisting.
It was a journey of discovery on my part because it was the first time I had ever read files kept by the Consulting Association. What was shocking was the detail in the files, but in one case it was said at the conclusion of the file that somebody had retired but that they should "watch out for Fred Blogs, son of the aforementioned". It seems to be almost inherited that there would be this practice. Many of the files that I saw were of people who are still members of our union but who are unable to work in the industry-unable to work in construction.
Q607 Jim McGovern: Is it the view of you all that this is particularly prevalent in the construction industry?
Harry Donaldson: I confirm that that would be our view, on that basis. We clearly understand the issues, just as Gail has indicated. However, I think it goes wider than even trade union membership. It goes beyond that. We believe that people who have registered complaints with employers still find themselves being caught up in this whole unscrupulous process, finding themselves outwith the labour market and unable to pursue their careers. They are highly skilled and motivated individuals who just cannot get jobs within that sector of the economy. Basically, they have obviously lost out a lot-they and their families. We have found the same or similar experiences, but we believe that it not only impacts on trade unionists but goes even wider.
Gail Cartmail: May I add something? It is a particular element of the Joint Industry Board. We are a party, as Unite the Union, to the Scottish Joint Industry Board, with the Electrical Contractors Association and SELECT. One of the board’s working rules covers recruitment.
One practice on recruitment is by word of mouth, through recommendations. One role of the trade union official, very often themselves electrically or mechanically qualified, is personally to recommend operatives for work. Despite the intervention of our national officer, at the Glasgow Infirmary site, we have been unable via this mechanism to get people into work. That officer is currently working on behalf of a person who has been blacklisted historically, trying to get this highly skilled member of ours into work. I am afraid that a number of companies within the SJIB are unwilling to activate that element of our joint working rule.
Q608 Jim McGovern: A couple of electricians from Dundee gave evidence before us fairly recently, just before the recess. One of them was saying that the Scottish Joint Industry Board was almost in cahoots with employers to exclude certain people. Is that your view?
Gail Cartmail: I have no evidence of that. However, I have instructed our national officer to adjust the balance on all the joint industry boards to ensure that we have more of our people, again to use the vernacular, who are "on the tools" populating those boards. I have no evidence of that, but one characteristic of the Joint Industry Board is that working rule 17, which seeks to avoid excessive use of agency workers, is largely ignored by member companies.
Some of our members get work via an agency, but, if the agency says that the operative is not required, they then cannot use the legislation to protect them against blacklisting. It is quite a complicated scenario. There are a number of working rules that appear to be ignored.
Q609 Jim McGovern: Of course. Justin, would you like to add to that?
Justin Bowden: Is blacklisting still taking place? Yes, almost certainly. There are two things that I want to say about that. One is a real example, and the other is a quick look at the history of blacklisting.
The Consulting Association, as you heard in previous evidence, was created as a result of the closure of the Economic League, as was Caprim. Those two organisations were specifically set up with the intention of blacklisting workers who were considered to be potentially damaging to the interests of large companies. It is known that the Consulting Association was set up at the request of a number of multi-national companies that had previously used the services of the Economic League; it involved the same people and, as far as is known, it also involved much of the same information. Out of the closure of one, like a phoenix from the ashes, rose at least two other organisations with the express purpose of blacklisting ordinary working people.
To make the point, a key issue about this, and again you have already heard evidence about this, Chair, is that the most common reason that people are blacklisted is for raising health and safety issues. That was the most common reason. It was not for handing out copies of Chairman Mao’s "Little Red Book" at the gate of the site or any other supposedly politically or ideologically driven reason but because they were raising genuine concerns to ensure that they went home safely that night. The Consulting Association was set up at the request of the construction companies, at the highest possible level. It continued, like the Economic League, until it was effectively shut down because its activities had been exposed. Its history is of an organisation blacklisting workers, getting caught with its hands in the till, closing down, going under cover for a little while and then reinventing itself in a further format.
The ICO never carried out a proper follow-through investigation, having seized the files originally in relation to the Consulting Association. Given the fact that no company affected received any kind of sanction at all-they did not even get a slapped wrist-and only one individual got a derisory fine of £5,000, what possible disincentive is there to companies not to ensure that blacklisting continues? We would say that, yes, it does.
Let me give a concrete example. Towards the end of July I visited the GMB laggers branch down in Dagenham. This is a construction-related branch, which has regular attendees aged from their early 20s through to their 70s, so there is a huge experience of working in the construction industry in and around east London and the south-east. All of those individuals told me that they had difficulties getting work, yet with the exception of one they had all contacted the ICO to see whether they were on the blacklist seized from the Consulting Association. None of them were, with the exception of one individual, yet all of them could give detailed examples of how they had been unable to secure work without any obvious reason being given, even during periods of economic building boom.
As a brief aside, they also showed me a blacklist that dated from the 1970s and 1980s containing information not dissimilar to that seized from the Consulting Association. All the information from our members out there shows that people continue to be blacklisted today. Common sense and history tells us that there is no reason for those who had benefited from blacklisting not to have carried on with the practice going forward into the future.
Q610 Jim McGovern: Just to finish, it is almost a given that it happens in the construction industry, but is there any evidence to suggest that it happens in other industries?
Gail Cartmail: As an example of our concern in Unite, I am responsible as AGS for a number of sectors, and I recently instructed all my national officers to alert me to all instances of suspected victimisation. Not surprisingly, they arise from trade union activities by health and safety representatives and workplace representatives. The reason why I did that was because of the increasing number of reports of disciplinary action being taken against trade union representatives. It is about punitive measures arising, I believe, from trade union activities. Whether that is flowing through into blacklisting I could not say, but we have seen an increase in punitive measures and spurious disciplinaries against trade union representatives.
Harry Donaldson: Also, Jim, there is a common belief or an assumption, particularly for offshore workers and also in shipbuilding, that experience indicates that people lose their jobs because of their background. We are firmly of the belief that these practices still carry on.
Chair: At some stage, we shall have to ask you to be a bit more specific if there are firms that you believe are consistently refusing to take people on because of the existence of a blacklist, because it will be our intention at some stage to bring some of these people in and ask them directly what their practices are. We are conscious of what has happened in the past with the Economic League, and we have also heard evidence about the Consulting Association. So, because in a sense we have you here for only a limited time, we do not necessarily want to go back over that too much. Iain, you have a point to raise.
Q611 Iain McKenzie: I want to speak about the penalties that can be imposed upon firms or companies for blacklisting. What would you say would be a better deterrent? Would it be increased fines? Would it be criminal proceedings against the directors?
Justin Bowden: Blacklisting should be a criminal offence, punishable with imprisonment and subject to unlimited fines.
Q612 Chair: Imprisonment for whom?
Justin Bowden: For company directors.
Q613 Chair: So this is something that would be a director responsibility, even though the directors themselves were not the people operating the blacklist, which might be done at a much lower level.
Justin Bowden: There are two or three things to say about that. First, with the Consulting Association-the organisation that most is known about, that existed with director-level involvement from the companies concerned. Part of the deal of being involved in the association was that you had director-level involvement in it.
Secondly, it has to be from the top of an organisation. I draw a parallel with changes in the law in relation to health and safety. These things have to be driven from the top, otherwise companies will just use individuals as buffers or sacrificial lambs on occasions, and wash their hands of them.
There is a third point on this, which is that, unless it is seen widely within the entire company that it is the responsibility of the most senior individuals within a firm, responsibility will stop there. I do not see how else to get the change in culture that is needed to ensure it.
Gail Cartmail: I would agree that it should be dealt with very seriously indeed. It is secretive spying on ordinary men and women by big corporate organisations. It is a conspiracy. This is paid for. I appreciate totally your point about wanting to prove blacklisting in the present. However, Chair, that is quite hard because of the secretive nature of the spying activities and the recording of that spying. It has always been denied.
I mentioned Gerry Harvey, who is a senior HR personality within Balfour Beatty Engineering Services. One of our members, Phil Willis, had an employment tribunal case which he lost. Gerry Harvey was relied upon for evidence to that tribunal, and he admitted being primarily responsible for his company’s engagement with the Consulting Association. In the judgment, in legal terminology, the employment judge pretty well called Gerry Harvey’s evidence lies in part. Gerry Harvey, as I mentioned earlier, is the man who interviewed one of our leading representatives at Grangemouth for Balfour Beatty Engineering Services. I remember that Stewart Hume had a personal interview with him, and the result was Stewart’s unexpected redundancy. Of course we are dealing with that and looking into the case, but that will be no comfort at all if Stewart Hume is "inexplicably" unable to find future employment commensurate with his skills and qualifications.
Last night, I met one of our leading blacklisted members, who was alluded to anonymously in our evidence. He is working as an electrician but not at a level commensurate with his skills and qualifications. His income loss is massive; it is significant. Going back to what would be an appropriate fine, the fact that previous actions against employers resulted in a maximum fine of £5,000 beggars belief when you look at the lifetime’s loss of earnings. There was a report on blacklisting by Professor Ewing entitled "Ruined Lives", and quite honestly that is what I have seen; I have looked straight in the face of people who have had their lives ruined and whose lives continue to be ruined.
Q614 Chair: I come back to the point that Justin made about the penalties of imprisonment and so on. Would you say that they should fall only on the directors and not on the personnel people implementing these policies? I want to be clear what you are recommending to us.
Justin Bowden: The point that I was trying to make is the need for corporate accountability. It is perfectly reasonable, if it was clear that an individual was implicated in wrongdoing or was implicated in blacklisting, perhaps as the head of HR, for example, then there is no reason why they should not be subject to prosecution as well. However, to ensure a change in culture, to ensure that companies are not sophisticated enough, as they have been up to this point, to introduce a buffer to ensure an arm’s length protection for those who are effectively driving this through and benefiting from it, there has to be the highest level of corporate responsibility and accountability-and, ultimately, the penalty for directors or those at director level of imprisonment and unlimited fine.
Q615 Chair: That would apply similarly to those within the chain who were directly implementing those decisions.
Justin Bowden: Yes, that is right.
Chair: Fine. I just wanted to be clear and get that on the record.
Q616 Iain McKenzie: I have a question about the person who has already been identified in Balfour Beatty. You said that he has previous experience of these actions. How do you know and how many previous experiences have you had of this?
Gail Cartmail: I refer to an employment tribunal that has been documented-I believe that it was a reserved decision-which involved Phil Willis, one of our members. In this hearing, Gerry Harvey admitted being the lead person within Balfour Beatty Engineering Services that was representing his company at meetings with the Consulting Association, as you might with any respectable organisation that was not a spying and secretive outfit. He admitted at the employment tribunal that he was representing his company, but he had a failure of memory in relation to other people implicated in this conspiracy.
That is why the employment tribunal judge questioned whether the witness was being entirely open and truthful during the proceedings; and, as you know, the employment tribunals take evidence under oath. I find it quite incredible that an electrical operative should be interviewed by such a senior personality in the here and now in relation to selection for redundancy. I feel that there is a link.
Q617 Chair: Were other people who were possibly to be made redundant also being interviewed?
Gail Cartmail: Yes. I can provide you with further and better particulars, but the only person who has been selected for redundancy who was personally interviewed by Gerry Harvey is our member, Stewart Hume. I shall gladly provide the Committee with further and better particulars on the treatment of others. It is important that I do so. My belief is that Gerry Harvey continues to sift and filter on behalf of his company. That is my belief, and it is the belief of our members.
Q618 Chair: Would it be your belief that he is acting on behalf of the company rather than on his own behalf?
Gail Cartmail: Yes. It is unconscionable that somebody of that seniority would be freelancing in this respect.
Q619 Jim McGovern: On the same subject that you brought up, Chair, the question you put to Justin was, "Who should be responsible?" In all of our experience, a trade union member or any employee feels hard done by when they go to an employment tribunal, whether as an applicant, a respondent or employer. Gail, from what you are saying about this Gerry Harvey, unless he owns the company, he will not be held responsible, will he?
Gail Cartmail: No, but companies are held to account through corporate responsibility, in many different ways, are they not?
Q620 Jim McGovern: A company would get fined, but, if, as Justin says, it should incur a prison sentence, would it be Gerry Harvey or the chief executive?
Gail Cartmail: I am not legally qualified to set out what might be effective regulation, but it is important in my mind that, if someone in the line of management is authorised to undertake spying, conspiracy and secretively denying people work, then the act of authority places some onus of responsibility at the most senior level.
Jim McGovern: Sure.
Gail Cartmail: The fact that the heaviest penalty was £5,000, given all the evidence and proof of contributions to the Consulting Association, is contemptuous.
Jim McGovern: That was very helpful.
Q621 Iain McKenzie: What constitutes spying? Is that spying in the workplace or spying outwith the workplace? What sorts of actions take place?
Gail Cartmail: You have heard evidence of concern that there was some involvement in the past, possibly of the police and special branch and so on, because some of the sources have been exposed in recent newspaper articles. It is incredible to imagine where else the information could have come from. The unredacted files that I have had sight of were coded. I think that the Committee must be aware of the coding, which is quite complicated. There are various sources, such as employers and employment agencies and including-it is important to be open about this-trade union sources. It is a complex web. Attached to files are newspaper reports and reports of employment tribunal proceedings. That is not passive. Somebody has to go out, collect and annotate that information. I regard that as spying.
Q622 Lindsay Roy: Will you clarify for us the different ways in which you use evidence of blacklisting and tell us what challenges you face in pursuing these issues on behalf of your members?
Justin Bowden: What was the first part of your question?
Q623 Lindsay Roy: First, will you clarify the different ways in which you have been able to pursue the evidence? Secondly, what challenges do you face in trying to pursue and support the claims that your members have been making?
Justin Bowden: The most difficult problem that we face at the moment is in relation to information obtained from the Consulting Association’s list of 3,213 people-information blogged by the Information Commissioner’s Office. As of last week, only 194 people know that they are on that list. You have a situation where more than 3,000 people still do not know that they are on that list. That is despite us and, separately, Liberty having written very recently to the ICO suggesting a number of things.
In particular, we suggest that they should write to each of the individuals on the list, making them aware that they are on it and aware of their rights. That has not happened, so we have the ridiculous and embarrassing situation that, three years or so after the state and the state regulator became aware of the existence of this criminality and this information being held on workers, the overwhelming majority of those people do not know that they are on that list. From our point of view, that is the biggest frustration. To put it in analogous terms, at the moment the ICO is the cork in the blacklisting bottle, and it needs to be popped.
Q624 Lindsay Roy: If it has been reported to the regulator, what action has been taken?
Justin Bowden: The historical actions of the regulator are well documented, but it effectively amounts to a few slapped wrists in the form of enforcement orders-in football terms, not even a yellow card.
Q625 Lindsay Roy: So a token gesture. Would that be the way to describe it?
Justin Bowden: If that, yes. There was also a £5,000 fine for the person who was effectively administering the blacklist on behalf of the company. The villains of the piece, without doubt, are the companies.
Q626 Lindsay Roy: So it is not being taken seriously, and pursuit is not robust or rigorous.
Justin Bowden: Absolutely not. In our view, the opportunity still exists for them to push forward and carry out a proper and thorough investigation. They claim that they have done that already, and they wrote to us in the last few weeks to suggest that their investigations were thorough and complex. I respectfully beg to differ. It is nothing like that. They have gone absolutely no way towards properly investigating the matter, as they should have done, and find out what information each of the 44 companies involved in the blacklisting still hold and whether they are still doing the blacklisting. We believe that a number of them clearly are doing so.
If it is okay, Chair, I shall tie this in with your question about naming names. The company that GMB has investigated and knows most about is Carillion. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that Carillion continues to hold information on people. The individual responsible for administering the blacklist relationship with the Consulting Association is Liz Keates, the head of HR, who continues to work for the company. We had direct contact with her in a separate dispute in Swindon.
We know that 224 individuals on the Consulting Association’s list were blacklisted directly by Carillion and that eight of those were from Scotland. Two of those individuals reside in the constituencies of members of the Committee here now-one Scottish constituency and one English. In Scotland alone, the company has in excess of £2 billion worth of public money contracts that they are already operating or are tendering for. If you take that out to England and Wales, the amount increases dramatically. Along with the other 43 companies, it should be held directly to account and properly investigated by the ICO, and the information held by them should be released. In our view-we are already on record about this-they should be prosecuted by the ICO and subject to the ability of those who have suffered detriment by their activities to bring claims against the company through the High Court.
Harry Donaldson: The reason why it is of particular interest to the Scottish Affairs Committee is to do with the tenders or current projects tendered for by Carillion. Given the evidence and the information that Justin has indicated, these are calculated to be in excess of £2 billion of contracts and public contracts within and throughout Scotland. On that basis, it covers the constituencies of six members of the Scottish Affairs Committee and also one English MP and one SNP Member. There is quite significant information on Carillion in particular, who are involved across Scotland. That is only one of the companies.
Q627 Lindsay Roy: Has this matter been raised directly with representatives of the Scottish Government and the UK Government? If so, what was the response?
Harry Donaldson: This information only recently came into our possession. This matter will be raised subsequent to this meeting.
Q628 Lindsay Roy: Have the general points about victimisation and blacklisting been raised with both the Scottish and the UK Governments? If so, what was the response?
Justin Bowden: We have not done it across every single one. Just to pick Carillion as one of the 44, we have not yet been able to bring to the attention of every public body all the contracts that Carillion either currently runs or is in the process of tendering for, but we are working our way through that. We will continue to bring it to the attention of various public bodies.
Q629 Chair: May I clarify a couple of things for the Committee? You spoke of a number of people being put on the blacklisting register by Carillion. How do you substantiate that?
Justin Bowden: Partly based on the information that we have seen, information that is in the public domain arising out of court cases, and not least from speaking to Dave Smith, who I know has given evidence to the Committee. The Carillion connection relates first to the coding mechanism that Gail touched on earlier. I know that the Committee has been given an explanation of that. Then there is the reference to LK, who is Liz Keates, who admitted in the course of the employment tribunal to being the person administering that information, either entering the information on behalf of Carillion for its own databases or giving information to the Consulting Association based on information that Carillion had from the contracts and other services that they were running.
Q630 Chair: Some of the information that you have collated follows on from a discussion that we had privately before we agreed that you should give evidence. It would therefore be helpful if you were to let us have formal copies of that. As I indicated before, with your agreement we will publish that on our website. It then becomes covered by privilege.
Gail Cartmail: Efforts to secure disclosure have been alluded to. At the very onset, one of the construction unions, UCATT, sought disclosure from the ICO of all the files because, given the nature of what we are discussing, they were going to be members of a trade union. The request for disclosure went through an ICO procedure and was refused. What is not perhaps understood-I am sure that this Committee understands it-is that, if you seek disclosure, as does one of our members, Steve Acheson, who seeks disclosure of his file from the ICO, unless you get disclosure for legal proceedings it is a redacted file.
The unredacted files that I have seen were on behalf of a whole bunch of Unite members, and I personally had to authorise cross-checking. They were unredacted because they came via an employment agency, which had them as part of a defence. I had to authorise the cross-checking of each individual-that was not only the file that pertained to the individual but all the other individuals mentioned in that file, such as friend of, associated with-and then cross-reference them to the litigation that we were undertaking on behalf of members whom we were pursuing for blacklisting purposes.
We then had to write to those that were involved in legal proceedings, advising them that they may wish to seek the support of our union to litigate. I cannot tell you how awful it must be to receive a letter from your trade union to say, "We have discovered that you have been spied on." Otherwise they would have no idea, so this element of disclosure is absolutely and massively important.
What is worse in the context of what I have just said are the hoops that you have to jump through. There is no retrospective compensation. The burden of proof is on the applicant to prove loss of income, and complaints are time-barred and can be pursued only if the applicant has direct employment. In the example that I gave of Balfour Beatty Engineering, if the company says, "I don’t want X operative to come back from agency X", it has the same effect, but the individual cannot litigate. This issue of the lack of disclosure of the ICO files means that hundreds of operatives out there are unable to pursue their cases. Now, of course, they are time-barred. It really is a mess.
Q631 Chair: What is the answer? If you do not have it now, perhaps you would let us have it subsequently. What recommendations do you believe that this Select Committee should be making for the present Government or the next Government?
Gail Cartmail: There has to be a root and branch review of the legislation around blacklisting. It is no good relying on direct employment status. That has to change. There has to be retrospection in relation to loss of earnings, and the burden of proof on loss of earnings should be reversed. My view, given the secretive nature of the activities against individual operatives, is that there needs to be consideration of more flexible time limits to seek justice through the employment tribunals.
Reference has already been made to penalties against employers, but I think that the Government might also consider-either the devolved Governments or the Westminster Government-measures on procurement. If companies that are shown and found to be blacklisting can continue to tender for public work, that makes a mockery of the values and standards of our country, and I believe that it would wish to outlaw this practice.
Q632 Chair: In terms of the general line of issues that have been raised, is that something with which the GMB would agree, or are there additional points?
Harry Donaldson: I think that they would be the same. We would obviously be calling for a public inquiry because we think that it is significant, but it should be on the basis of what we know. Liberty is actually seeking a judicial review on this point, but it is going through the ICO.
As Gail and Justin said, most of that comes down to accountability, responsibility and corporate governance. It has got to be root and branch from whoever is involved and all the way to the top. We have seen that by analogy with what has happened with the banks. People lower down, like people at the top, have had to pay the ultimate penalty-not by imprisonment but by losing their employment. I think the issue, like Leveson, should go to a public inquiry, not just judicial review. As Justin has already said, they all say that.
In terms of the role of this Committee, people like Liz Keates or the ICO themselves coming before the Committee would be a step in the right direction, to move things along that continuum, bearing in mind that those individuals in the first instance have to have some suspicion that they may well be or have been on a list. As we know, they are already time-barred through the normal processes that would be available to them, which would be through the employment tribunals. Should it be at the time when the individual has knowledge of the act, or should it be at the time when the act was committed? That is the difficulty that people have. But there is no retribution. "If not me, then who?" is the question; and it is going to be asked with Committees and even Parliament getting involved.
Q633 Chair: We will be gathering a number of issues from your evidence, but, if subsequent to this meeting there are points that you wish you had added, we would encourage you to write to us. That is particularly so in terms of the programme that ought to be undertaken, both for our investigation and the recommendations that we should make to this or a future Government.
Q634 Jim McGovern: I go back a couple of steps to when Justin was speaking about Carillion and the difficulty that Gail alluded to about who exactly you pursue if you have a grievance. Would I be right in saying that Carillion is a parent company for a number of other companies-for example, Tarmac and Nynas?
Justin Bowden: Yes. Carillion is a multinational company, and consistent with many such companies it is a complex arrangement of companies and subsidiaries that make up the company as a whole. Its blacklisting activities are not restricted to a particular part of the company. Indeed, it also has a wholly owned subsidiary agency, which has also been involved in blacklisting. In terms of the arrangements, Jim, yes, they are very complicated; they are made up of historic acquisitions as well as other companies that they create and then close down in due course to suit whatever business model they are operating.
Q635 Chair: You mention Carillion, its subsidiaries and the agency, and suggest that they have been blacklisting. Can you stand that up? While we are very keen to make sure that people are protected by privilege, we also want to have a certain standard of evidence rather than just throwing out allegations willy-nilly. We want to be clear whether you have anything relating to the agency and its subsidiaries. Is that the case?
Justin Bowden: Chair, there is reference in the files of those blacklisted to the agency itself, to SkyBlue and to other parts of the Carillion empire, for want of a better way of explaining it. You can very clearly see from the redacted and certainly the unredacted files of individuals that the complexities of Carillion, just the one company, are clearly reflected in their blacklisting operations.
Q636 Chair: Although the Clerk is a resourceful chap, he is not necessarily going to be able to gather up as much information as you have. Prior to our calling Carillion and Balfour Beatty in to appear before the Committee, it would be helpful if you would make sure that we have the detailed information that you have already gathered-unless the Clerk would rather do it himself? No; that is what I thought.
Would you let us have this information, because it is important that we are able to put as much as possible in front of them, either when they come here or beforehand?
Gail Cartmail: I was just reflecting, Chair, on something that you said earlier. If I were able in this forum to ask a question of a representative of Balfour Beatty Engineering Services-say Gerry Harvey, who is responsible for that enterprise’s HR-and bearing in mind the number of people that we know colluded in spying in the organisation, as a standard operating procedure and that these records were maintained at various levels of the organisation, I would want to ask what measures he has put in place to ensure that every manager throughout the establishment is aware that there can be no involvement, informal or formal, in blacklisting. That would tell us to what extent the company is seriously trying to eliminate a practice that has endured for years in construction and we believe still endures.
Q637 Chair: Are there any examples of good practice to which you could point us? We are aware of the list of companies involved with the Consulting Association. We heard in evidence today the list of the 40 or so companies on its books, but are there any either that were not on that list or were on the list but have subsequently repented and now have the sort of practices in place that you are recommending?
Gail Cartmail: In all honesty, I would have to refer back to our operational and national officers. I am very happy to do so, because I agree that it would be good to be able to show there was an operator in the industry that did not rely on this to outlaw trade unionism.
Q638 Chair: In terms of the groups that you mentioned at the beginning, the name of which escapes me-
Gail Cartmail: It was SELECT and ECA.
Chair: Indeed. Those are umbrella organisations. As well as pursuing individual companies, I was wondering whether we should seek to have dialogue with those organisations to clarify whether they are in the business of promoting best practice, or whether you believe that they would be divorced from any of the day-to-day operational matters and therefore that it would not be appropriate for them.
Gail Cartmail: Of the trade associations that are the sole bodies with whom my union relates, SELECT of course operates in Scotland, and the Electrical Contractors Association operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The problem is that it is a bit like asking, "Do you beat your wife?" It is a good point, and it is an interesting question that could be asked about what measures they are undertaking to rid the industry of this culture.
I take you back to the working rules agreed between ourselves and the trade association. A number of the working rules would assist us-for example, on the balance of directly employed operatives as opposed to the propensity of agency workers-but some of the rules are being ignored. The other rule that is germane to this Committee is the manner by which people are recruited. It relies on word of mouth, so there has to be a trust there for obvious reasons. We have temporarily stopped, and subjected it to review, our practice of officials sending CVs. It was the practice that, if a job started anywhere-say at T4 at Heathrow-an official of our union would send the CVs of appropriately qualified electrical and mechanical operatives, which would be the normal means by which an employer would recruit. We are no longer comfortable that that is an innocent practice, because we are the source of recommending people for work.
It is very complex, and we have to instil an understanding that this culture has stopped. I am not confident about that. By the way, trade associations are membership organisations. To what extent a trade association relying on contributions from its members is going to instigate rigour in this issue, I am not sure.
Q639 Chair: Does anyone want to comment on that general area?
Harry Donaldson: No, but I am ready to provide any information you want in terms of best practice. I think that we are very much concentrating on the other end of the spectrum, to be perfectly frank, but there must be exemplars of good practice out there. I think we may know one or two, but we would like to double check.
Chair: That would be helpful. If we could meet people who were able to spell out to us what the procedures are, we could compare them with the practices adopted by others or urge best practice on companies that we believe to be in error, to put it generously.
Lindsay, do you want to pick up on point 3 or do you feel that it has been dealt with already?
Lindsay Roy: No, that point has been dealt with more than adequately.
Chair: Jim, on point 4.
Q640 Jim McGovern: Harry, when I asked whether the problem was mainly prevalent in the construction industry, and I think everybody is aware of that, you mentioned the offshore industry. We have been told that there is a culture of a three-letter acronym: NRB or "Not required back". Can anyone explain how this operates? Gail said that the agency might be the buffer when the employer says to the agency, "We don’t want him back." Is that how it works in practice?
Harry Donaldson: The issue is that it has to be by mouth to get that information coming back to you, from people who have been working offshore who have come back and they are not required. Again, in terms of the basis of that, it becomes an issue as to why the people do not get back. It is insidious because they do not actually know why, but then again they cannot work back in these areas. So people, in the absence of any critical analysis, just take a view. Is it because they are seen to have made a complaint? Is it because of one thing or another? People start to come to the assumption-I do not think that it is an assumption at this stage-that the activity is because something internal was requested or asked, as Gail was saying and Justin touched on.
On a lot of these occasions it may be no more than a complaint about health and safety or some other problem, which would be a genuine issue. Because of that, people just find themselves out of employment and unable to pursue their livelihoods. That kind of practice cannot be condoned; it cannot be supported and has to be outlawed, as far as we see it, as trade unions.
Q641 Jim McGovern: You have led me to my next question. Is it outlawed or is it legal?
Harry Donaldson: We know the issue at this moment in time. There is no way back for most people. How do they challenge it? That becomes the issue. There are in excess of 3,000 people on these lists, without having to widen the context on the whole aspect of those who remain on these lists. There is no way back. There is no redress for these people because they are all time-barred because the current system allows it. As I said earlier, it is at the point of knowledge. Over 3,000 people still have no knowledge whatsoever that they were on a list. They have no knowledge of it. They may have been out of employment for a long period.
You can imagine a household faced with demands and outgoings, and you are unemployed for a long time, your wife will be saying, if you are married or if you have a partner, or thinking that it has something to do with you. It is a very insidious practice and it is an unscrupulous way of dealing with people. The difficulty is being able to identify why they are not required. The challenge is going unanswered in terms of these issues.
Q642 Jim McGovern: If we accept, as I think everybody would, that this practice exists, how do we eradicate it? How do we make sure that it is outlawed?
Harry Donaldson: That has been touched on by Justin and Gail in terms of what has to happen in order to make corporate accountability and responsibility from the top all the way down, through these levels, to ensure that this is being complied with. But there is no list, so there is no blacklisting. What is it that local managers have done? What is it that HR has done? What is it at the top of the tree, with the company and corporate governance? They must see where costs have gone. They must look at the finances. Just to play down these facts and say, "I am sorry" is no excuse. Ignorance is no defence.
Gail Cartmail: I completely agree. As I proposed to the Chair earlier, asking companies that have admitted blacklisting, such as Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, what rigour they have introduced into their organisation to ensure that they are clean and not complicit in this practice currently would be quite an interesting question. I would be interested in the response, but I fear that there is no rigour. I fear that, in the vast majority of cases, standard operating practice is still to collar people.
A point was made by Harry about health and safety. I am sure that the Committee has read unredacted files. It is nothing short of horrific to see that the vast majority are not about pay campaigns or bonuses, solidarity walkouts or walking out when an operative dies. It is the practice in the industry. Health and safety leaps out of the pages in relation to so many of the annotations.
It is not a Scottish case, but we recently had an example of a health and safety rep at Ratcliffe power station who was singled out for spurious disciplinary action after raising health and safety. It was like Alice in Wonderland, with the whole world turned upside down. The rep was sucked into a vortex of ludicrous allegations, yet he had always been a scrupulous health and safety rep. The operative that made the allegation against him was later dismissed for gross misconduct. Of course we intervened, pulled it back and all the rest, but this is a very transient work force. As the Committee knows, a job may only last for a certain period. If you are suspended from work because of protracted proceedings and the job ends, you have to go to another job with that hanging over your head.
Q643 Jim McGovern: This is a question that I was going to ask later. I am talking about the construction industry in particular. I was employed in the construction industry for 25 years, so I know how hazardous it can be and how lax health and safety can be on building sites and so on. Do you believe that people who might want to be safety reps are discouraged from taking on that position because they might be blacklisted or singled out for unfair treatment?
Gail Cartmail: In the example that I gave of the Ratcliffe power station, the actual incident on which our health and safety rep intervened was an operative who dropped a hammer from a height. I do not need to explain to people what dropping a hammer from a height could result in, even with hard hats. It was said to be a "joke", but the incident had to be reported and the person who did it needed to be spoken to. The company initially chose not to investigate the incident but took action against our member who reported it.
Of course people might look at that and think, "Do you know what? I care for the health and wellbeing of my colleagues; I wouldn’t mind doing the training; I wouldn’t mind undertaking that role." They would have seen that the weeks and weeks of delay and prevarication in prosecuting a disciplinary process is very off-putting. One of the problems that we have in Unite among electrical and mechanical operatives is getting people to step forward and take on the responsibilities of a steward. It is a problem for us.
Q644 Jim McGovern: Do you believe that that is because of a fear of being discriminated against?
Gail Cartmail: Absolutely. I had a meeting last night with a number of very experienced members who have not taken up the steward role, who are reporting breaches of working rules to us anonymously. To be frank, they are glad to have a job. That strips the role of the trade union representative and the health and safety representative of the dignity that it deserves in a hazardous, dangerous and precarious industry.
Harry Donaldson: I too subscribe to that view. Again, the issue is taking on a responsible role. If the employer looked at it for what it is, it could be a definite bonus, an assistance and support for the employer, particularly on the construction side. To use the terminology, it would be almost frowned upon on the issues that we would be putting to them, making us afraid to put our heads above the parapets. You are more likely to be shot down. People have a definite fear of that.
In other sectors of the economy, I pick up on Lindsay’s constituency, where there were 40-odd health and safety reps on one major manufacturing site. It was a completely different approach to health and safety, whereas in construction-you have seen that side of it-how long has it taken to try and instil health and safety as a culture within the construction industry? It has not been through the willingness of the employers.
Again, based on that, the background information that we have seen indicates that it is not something that is particularly aimed to be pursued by individuals in that line of work, for obvious reasons. As Gail said, there are occasions when people are glad to have a job in the current climate, and on the basis of that people do not want to push themselves, because they are still firmly of the belief that they will be targeted as individuals. Because of the transient nature of a lot of the work, that will then follow them. Again, I firmly believe that that is still is the case.
Justin Bowden: There is a direct link, Jim, between blacklisting and a more dangerous work place. The intimidatory effect of blacklisting is pretty obvious. You do not have to see too many people go out of the door for raising health and safety issues before the censor starts to exist inside your own head. They are brave people who are still prepared to come forward at that point and risk losing their jobs, particularly in recessionary times like these, by raising health and safety issues. There is no doubt that there is a clear link between the two. Construction is a dangerous occupation, but it is no more dangerous than a number of others that have better health and safety records. There is a serious question to be answered, again by the companies, about how they explain the increased number of deaths and injuries in construction in the context of their role and involvement in blacklisting.
I return again to Carillion. That company is in court in Swansea on Friday, being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive over a worker who was killed on one of its sites. GMB will be sending along the grim reaper by way of a protest, and we will be having our say in relation to that. That is one example of 44 companies involved in this practice.
Q645 Chair: Jim started on the question of the NRB. There is a difference, is there not, if a single employer says that a single worker is not wanted back? That is not necessarily blacklisting across the whole industry, is it, unless that worker then goes for a job with another firm and finds that he cannot get a job, in which case there might be a blacklist? The NRB process in itself, as I understand it, would be one individual and one company. In a sense, that is a different process. I am not sure that I want to go down the road of going into unfair or unreasonable dismissals or refusing to take somebody back, because that just widens things out so broadly, or am I missing a point?
Gail Cartmail: If I may say so, Chair-I feel like a lawyer-you have to look at the facts and the frequency of NRBs. There are examples, and I know that I will have to bring them forward to satisfy your standard of evidence, where an operative is being engaged but the NRB is quickly instigated. For some reason, that operative is not required any longer, when it seems evident that there is a need for that trade. To know to what extent this is allied to blacklisting, we would have to look at the facts.
Q646 Chair: That is the issue, is it not? I am not disputing that an employer might be unreasonable in dismissing somebody for raising health and safety issues. The question is whether they are then barred from going somewhere else. That is when the question of blacklisting comes up.
Gail Cartmail: It is the lay-off issue, is it not? If the NRB is coupled with, say, laying off an electrical operative while the contractor is still engaging other electrical operatives via agencies and whatever means, but attaching the NRB, then effectively they are saying, "You are blacklisted by us." This is where the facts are quite important.
Q647 Chair: To be fair, we have tended to think of blacklisting as being something that would apply across an industry rather than just being, as it were, a fallout between an employer and an employee in a particular firm.
Gail Cartmail: I understand that.
Chair: What is particularly pernicious about blacklisting is the idea that it applies right across the industry. Coming back to the question of the individual, that takes us to grounds that I am not quite sure we ought to go into because it widens things too much. I want to focus particularly on the blacklisting issue.
Jim McGovern: Just for your information, Chair and Gail, you may remember that, back in the mid-1990s in Dundee, the Timex dispute was a very high profile dispute. Timex sacked the whole work force. It was no longer a dispute but a sacked work force. The shop stewards committee could not find work anywhere else, and they were highly skilled toolmakers. They eventually took various employers to an employment tribunal, successfully, because they were being refused work on the basis that they had been involved in the Timex dispute. There are courses of action to be taken but not always successfully. The AEEU, as it was then, supported those shop stewards.
Q648 Iain McKenzie: Is there any evidence of this sort of information being transferred between companies? Is there a central pool that firms could call once they won a contract about whom they should employ and who should not be employed?
Gail Cartmail: That is the big question in relation to whether there are contemporaneous records. As we touched on earlier, we believe that there is a continuing conspiracy, drawing from records of spying. However, it is very secretive. The Economic League was very secretive-they met very secretively-and, as we know, the Consulting Association was secretive. It was only via ICO’s raid that that was discovered.
The evidence that we give-this is where I started-is the living evidence of highly skilled electrical and mechanical operatives in an area where there is a real skills shortage, which is shortly to worsen, with people being unable to find work commensurate with their skills. That suggests to me that the collusion continues. They are not only going to one employer but to numerous employers to seek engagement, and even on the recommendation of our highly respected national officer they are not being engaged.
That suggests that there is a continuation of the problem, and the only way that we can begin to get to the bottom of, I guess, is to ask employers that we know were complicit, because they admitted it in proceedings and were found to be contributing to the scenery, what measures they have in place to ensure that it is rooted out. What training have supervisors been given? What measures do they deploy to ensure fair employment? It is my guess that we would not find anything particularly robust, which suggests some other explanation for the non-employment of highly sought-after and skilled operatives.
Q649 Chair: Harry, I am conscious that you have to get away in a little while. Is there anything you want to add to that?
Harry Donaldson: No, I do not think so.
Q650 Chair: Justin?
Justin Bowden: We are back to the ICO and the cork in the bottle. The fact is that it was able to seize information and uncover the activities of one individual through this particular company, but, more importantly, those of 44 different companies, yet it did not do anything meaningful that could be seen and has not done anything of any substance since. That is a sadness and a lost opportunity but one that has not gone completely.
In the same way as information was seized from the Consulting Association, there must have been and there was information held by all of those other companies. It was a two-way process, remember. The Consulting Association relied on information from different employers in order to amass its database. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that every one of those companies had maintained a database of its own. By definition, it would need to do that in order to exchange information.
Q651 Chair: Could they not simply have passed it on as and when? When somebody came across the horizon, they could just pass it on rather than keeping their own records. There is no point in having somebody central keeping a blacklist if you are keeping one as well, is there?
Justin Bowden: No. I understand from those who have given evidence in previous court cases who worked for companies in this position, and from other people that I have spoken to, that in most cases companies maintain records of their own as well.
Chair: That is helpful.
Justin Bowden: Again, we are back to whether there is a suspicion or concern that they do not, if it can ultimately be shown to be the case one way or the other if a proper investigation has been carried out or is still being carried out at this point in time. That is a no-lose situation, in that you can show either that it does not exist and never has done or that companies are still holding information.
I raise the parallel issue that in some respects connects with one of Jim’s questions of a few minutes ago. The way things stand at the moment, the information seized by the Information Commissioner from Ian Kerr has to be returned to him, so, although it is able to keep the originals, copies of that information go back to him. We have the ludicrous situation in which illegal information held on people that has denied them a living, in some cases for decades, continues to exist and can still be held by the individual who amassed it in the first place. That is crackers.
Q652 Mr Reid: It must be illegal now, surely, because of the 2010 regulations that made blacklists illegal. Surely, it is illegal for Ian Kerr to have the information.
Justin Bowden: My understanding is that the information has to be returned to him. What he then does with it is-
Q653 Mr Reid: We could get into a silly legal situation here where, on the one hand, the law is saying that the Information Commissioner has to hand it back, but the minute he receives it he is acting illegally because the law has changed since he last possessed it.
Justin Bowden: That specific point is one of the things that has been raised by Liberty. Where is that information and what is being done with it now?
Q654 Mr Reid: The Information Commissioner, obviously, has a copy.
Do you know if other copies exist anywhere else?
Justin Bowden: We do not know for certain who else holds what other information. Again, we are back to my hobby horse or what is becoming an important hobby horse now. It is about what information was held by other people as part of this process, as part of maintaining the Consulting Association. A proper and thorough investigation of all 44 companies should have taken place at the time, but it did not, so it should now take place.
Q655 Mr Reid: Have any of your members submitted data protection requests-I think they are called "subject access requests"-on two of these 44 companies?
Justin Bowden: No, not at this stage.
Gail Cartmail: We are engaged with the Blacklist Supporters’ Group. Our legal team is working on the whole disclosure.
We are challenging under disclosure of information. We are also challenging via the human rights angle in the European Court. We are trying to challenge in each and every way, as I mentioned earlier. In fact, my union is supporting cases in an employment tribunal. We are pretty sure that we will lose and possibly incur costs, but the reason for doing it is that it is the only way that we can get the unredacted files on behalf of our members. In fact the implications of that are quite serious, but it is the only way that we can get the unredacted files pertaining to their case.
Q656 Mr Reid: Under the Data Protection Act, any individual is allowed to request any company to supply them with details of the information that the company holds about them.
Gail Cartmail: That is why we are litigating under the Data Protection Act.
Q657 Mr Reid: Have these requests been submitted?
Gail Cartmail: We are litigating under the Data Protection Act.
Q658 Mr Reid: It does not need litigation. It only needs an individual to write to the company.
Justin Bowden: From our point of view and on advice, the more effective way of doing this is by organising group claims for people, most likely through the High Court, and seeking to obtain information by that route. We are advised by lawyers that that is the best way to proceed rather than writing off to a particular company and saying, "Tell us what you hold about us." Given that the vast majority of the companies have not, up to this point, even admitted that they were involved in this, never mind issuing an apology, we think that it is pretty unlikely that someone sending off 10 quid and saying, "Send us the information you’ve got" is going to get us what we need. So we are going to do it with a little more teeth.
Q659 Mr Reid: Do the companies only hold information about their own ex-employees or do they hold other information?
Justin Bowden: I suspect that it will be a mixture of both. We are back again, aren’t we, to this being a fantastic thing for the ICO to have done, and it could still seek to investigate and establish it one way or the other? Who holds what about whom?
Q660 Mr Reid: It is illegal to hold a blacklist, but would it be illegal for a company to maintain details of its own ex-employees so long as it did not pass those details to anyone else?
Justin Bowden: You are correct that it would be entitled to maintain so-called personnel records. It is what it does with those and what information they contain, and there is an issue about the reliability and the accuracy of that information.
Q661 Chair: Alan’s point was that if someone had worked for Carillion, would they be able to write to Carillion and ask for copies of their personnel records?
Justin Bowden: They can, yes.
Chair: Has that been done?
Q662 Mr Reid: The legal advice they got was not to do that.
Justin Bowden: Our advice is that there is a better way of doing it, both tactically and legally.
Q663 Chair: May I clarify one point? You said that the companies deny having been involved with the Consulting Association. Presumably, the Consulting Association records are there, with records of sums that have been paid in. Have those companies been disputing that those sums were paid in by them?
Justin Bowden: There has been nothing done about that, Chair. As I understand it, the ICO wrote to the companies at the time, saying that it believed that they had been undertaking those activities. A number of those companies responded and said, "Yes, we have." They got an enforcement order and a slapped wrist, but those that effectively did not respond or denied it were just left.
Harry Donaldson: It was about 14 out of 44, was it not?
Justin Bowden: I think that Harry is right.
Q664 Chair: Do you know how many replied and who they were?
Justin Bowden: We can give you precise figures.
Harry Donaldson: I know that 14 of the 44 did reply, so presumably it would be 30 who had nothing done, but I can get that information.
Chair: Again, that would be helpful. Pamela, you wanted to come in?
Q665 Pamela Nash: I am sorry that I could not be here at the beginning of your evidence session, but from what I have heard it has been really helpful.
I wanted to go back to Justin and the correlation between blacklisting and the level of safety for workers. Are you saying that you have seen a correlation between blacklisting and the number of people who have sustained serious injury working for a company or even being killed?
Justin Bowden: Yes. If you look at the information that is on the blacklisting files-
Q666 Chair: I am sorry, Justin, but may I interrupt you for a second? Harry is looking worried and I am conscious that he has to go. Is there a final point that you would want to raise with us?
Harry Donaldson: The points have been well covered by Justin and Gail, and I am sure that Justin will be able to pick up any other relevant points. I will provide you with information in due course. Again, I apologise for having to leave early but I have to catch a flight back to Scotland.
Chair: Okay. I apologised for being late in starting and therefore cutting short your evidence.
Harry Donaldson: Thanks for the opportunity.
Chair: Thanks very much, Harry. Justin, as you were saying.
Justin Bowden: Looking at the information on the files that I have seen, albeit it is a small number of the total that are held, and taking account of the information presented to you and the evidence given by Dave Smith, the vast majority of the entries relate in some way to health and safety-not always, but there is a very high incidence of individuals having an entry on the blacklist because they have raised concerns of some sort or another about safety in the workplace.
Given that raising health and safety concerns had a high likelihood of leading to blacklisting, that has meant that there would have been a reduced number of individuals in the workplace in any event who would have been health and safety reps or would have been prepared to raise health and safety issues. That is inevitably going to have a knock-on effect because those people are not going to be there to raise those issues. Coupled with that is the likelihood that people who have been blacklisted and do not get work as a result will be less inclined to come forward and step into their shoes, on the basis that they will have seen what happens if you raise health and safety issues, because you do not get work.
It is not anything other than a commonsensical conclusion to arrive at. There has to be a link between blacklisting people because of health and safety and the workplace becoming more dangerous. The knock-on effect of that, again, is likely to be an increase in accidents of all sorts, dangerous or serious injuries and, ultimately, fatalities.
Q667 Pamela Nash: I agree with you, Justin, but unfortunately common sense does not always prevail in the Houses of Parliament. It would be good if we had some evidence of that. Do you have any specific examples of someone who has sustained serious injury as a result?
Justin Bowden: The parallel that we would make, and there would be an element of empirical evidence around it, would be the point that I made before, which is that construction is a dangerous occupation but that other occupations are as dangerous or more dangerous yet with a lower incidence of either serious injury, accidents in general or fatalities. I guess the question then is what the reason is for that.
Generally, the better organised an industry or sector is, the higher the degree of unionisation and, the better the working relationship between employer and trade unions or the work force, the safer that workplace will be. The express purpose of construction companies blacklisting in the first place was to keep activists out of the work force. That was anybody who was going to organise the work force, including organising them around health and safety issues. In short, there is some evidence, but do not suppose that anybody has done any research at this stage to tie up a direct link with blacklisting, because the exposure of blacklisting is relatively recent. I guess it is how you set it up, but I am not a statistician or an academic.
Q668 Pamela Nash: My concern would be how to determine that another industry is as dangerous as construction if you are not comparing injuries.
Justin Bowden: You have other industries undertaking construction or similar occupations that contain construction as part of the process. Parts of manufacturing would include electricians as part of the process. The level of accidents among electricians in a well-organised factory-well organised from a trade union sense-will be lower than in an unorganised construction site.
Gail Cartmail: There is comparative data, and I am happy to bring it forward to this Committee retrospective to us giving evidence.
The other thing is anecdotal and it will not necessarily help you, but I have come to understand that the activists that I meet in the sector will report, provided they are protected by anonymity, particularly so if they have been refused work. That is why our campaign, which is called "Play By The Rules", is inviting people to report breaches anonymously. That has had an extraordinary impact over a short period of time. Prominent among the things that people report is health and safety breaches. I agree that we need to see what comparative data we can provide for you so that we can look at like for like, but anecdotally I sense that it is a very live issue and problem.
May I touch on something that is not a Scotland-based example? Sometimes, employers change tactics. We have a prominent site in London, with Crossrail, and there is evidence of a contractor company suddenly having a conversion on the road to Damascus and paying the trade union contributions for its work force. I raise this because it is another way of sidelining genuine trade union involvement and sending the message that, "We will pay your contributions but we don’t expect you to play a role." The landscape of construction and what we encounter in the industry changes.
Employers will have learned, I would imagine, from the Consulting Association experience not to have evidence of contributions to an organisation that they employ to maintain records of blacklisting. Proving this therefore becomes more complex and difficult. What would you say to that, Justin? It is unlikely that they will keep the same process, so we have to be alert to other means by which employers might collude, spy and collect the data.
Q669 Chair: I think that we have covered virtually all the ground that we wanted to cover with you. There are obviously a number of things that we shall be discussing about who we should next bring in, but we want the sort of indications from you that we asked for about how best to pursue the matter.
It is also fair to recognise that two sites have been mentioned, Nynas and Southern General, and two companies, Carillion and Balfour Beatty, in particular. We have taken note of that, and it may very well be that the staff of the Committee or our advisers will want to pursue some of these matters with you in more detail, and we will consider how best to pursue things.
In the meantime, the standard thing that we always ask at the end is whether you have prepared answers to questions that we have not yet asked-things that you want to make sure are on the record before you leave. Is there anything?
Gail Cartmail: No. I just want to thank the Committee for patiently hearing our evidence. I appreciate that much of it is anecdotal, based on face-to-face conversations with operatives. What you are doing is fantastically valuable. I know, looking at the people that I have contact with in the industry, that they have high hopes of this evidence-gathering process. They are decent men.
Justin Bowden: If I could, Chair, I have a few bits and bobs and one or two general points.
One concern that I have, and I would ask the Committee to consider it, is the fact that the database relating to the Consulting Association held by the ICO is effectively time-limited as far as the ICO is concerned, which has said that it will hold it for only a limited time. Our worry is that, once it has gone, it is gone. We are a little unclear what the deadline is, but information on its website still talks of a date in 2011, up to which time people will be able to obtain information about their inclusion on the list. That date has passed, but from our point of view we would be worried that 2015 is the latest date. That is some time off, but, given that it has taken more than three years for 194 people’s names to have come to light and be revealed, at that pace it will probably take another 30 or 40 years before everybody knows.
It is another smallish point, but I flag up from our perspective the concern that there must be a political dimension to all this in a number of respects, particularly relating to the ICO. While it took some action back in 2009, it helpfully sought to assist the GMB, at least in part, in us trying to find out the information for our members. That is not perfect, but it is better than the position previously. However, we have a concern that there may be other reasons why more was not done at the time, and has not been done since, particularly when you look at the companies involved, who are on the record as supporting it, both financially and otherwise. I would like to chuck that quickly into the mix, if I may.
In terms of Jim’s question, which I never got around to answering, which was about how to stop the blacklisting, in some ways that is almost the same question as asking what we would like to see. Some of this has been covered before, so I put it in a nutshell. GMB would like to see all those on the blacklist written to and made aware of their inclusion on the list and of their rights around that-not just GMB members or other union members but everybody on that list, which obviously includes some non-union members. We would like to see a public inquiry on a par with Leveson, and we see obvious parallels with that.
We want stronger legal protections, making blacklisting a criminal offence with imprisonment and unlimited fines. We certainly believe that an apology and compensation is very overdue for the 3,200 people on the blacklist. To put a number on it, I understand through the Blacklisting Support Group’s legal action that it has put a figure of around £600 million of lost income for those on the blacklist as a minimum figure. That does not take into account lost revenue in taxation and national insurance and the state benefits that must have been paid out to people and their families who were not able to work.
Additional to that is a point that has already been partially covered, namely, for public bodies to review whether public contracts and taxpayers’ money should be awarded to companies involved in the blacklisting, whether it is Carillion, Balfour Beatty or any of the others on that list. It seems ludicrous to us that public money should be going to companies that are clearly guilty of this type of behaviour.
Finally, I would like to pick up on a point that Harry wanted to make and touched on before he left, which is about the state now being aware of the illegal activities and their effect on individuals over decades. This is about the little people, really-just ordinary working people. The state has information in its possession about these activities and who carried them out. The state has the power and means at its disposal to investigate, pursue and ultimately put right these injustices. The state has the power to put in place measures to stop this happening again. The question therefore is on whose side the state is going to act, given that this information is out there. Is it going to be for the little people or for the multinationals-those companies that broke the law with their covert and illegal activities?
On that point, Chair, I thank you very much for inviting us and hearing what we have to say.
Chair: Okay. I hope you feel that you have had a generally good hearing. We will obviously be considering how best to pursue matters.