Information Commissioner’s Office will investigate 40 firms as unions plan legal action

A government probe into a blacklist of over 3,000 construction workers will aim to identify the firms involved in setting up the database.

The Information Commissioner’s Office last week published the names of 40 firms who subscribed to a confidential personal database of over 3,000 construction workers thought to be ‘troublemakers’.

The list was produced by a firm called the Consulting Association, run by a former private detective called Ian Kerr. Subscribers include several major contractors including Balfour Beatty, Sir Robert McAlpine, Taylor Woodrow and Costain.

An ICO spokesman told Building: ‘We need to examine the information. We’re looking at how it was set up, the role of companies in that and who’s been using it.’

Union sources told the magazine a handful of companies helped compile the list, one said a major contractor had offered Kerr office space at its premises to help him get started.

Construction News reports that trade unions UCATT and Unite are both seeking legal advice on suing some of the contractors named. And Contract Journal writes that UCATT is also lobbying the Olympic authorities to launch a crackdown on its contractors, many of whom subscribed to the list.

But unions may be involved in the scandal too, reports Building. Unite is to launch an internal inquiry into claims its own officials passed information about members to contractors and Kerr.

Unite was formed in 2007 by a merger between the T&G and Amicus. A senior union figure told Building: ‘There will be an investigation into whether Amicus officials gave information to contractors who then passed it on to the Consulting Association…There will be a lot of nervous people because I’m certain some Amicus officials made it clear to employers that there were certain members they viewed as trouble-makers and didn’t want working on big sites such as the Pfizer plant, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the Manchester Royal Infirmary.’

Despite the probes, legal experts told Building that contractors that used the blacklist are unlikely to face prosecution. The list’s illegality focuses on Kerr’s failure to notify the ICO that he was a ‘data controller’, which is a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act.