Contractors could be hit by millions in claims and fees as first 'blacklist' worker gets go-ahead for industrial tribunal

Contractors could be facing claims totalling millions of pounds after the first worker on the construction blacklist received the green light to go to an industrial tribunal.

Phil Willis, a steel erector who has been in the industry for more than 40 years, became the first of 3,200 workers on the blacklist to have his application confirmed in pre-hearing review.

He is claiming that he was deliberately overlooked for employment by contractor CB&I, which together with recruitment agency Atlanco, discriminated against him because he was a member of a trade union.

Willis said the contractor claimed the case had been brought outside the three-month limitation period for launching an employment tribunal. But the review judge disregarded this because the existence of the blacklist emerged in March.

Lawyers have said that Willis’ case could set a precedent for a multitude of claims already lodged by blacklisted workers against the 41 firms named on private investigator Ian Kerr’s blacklist. These include Skanska, Kier and Sir Robert McAlpine.

This could be a huge irritation for contractors at any time, let alone the downturn

Sophie White, lawyer

Even if the claims are unsuccessful, contractors could still face hefty legal bills.

Sophie White, senior associate at CMS Cameron McKenna, said: “In a tribunal, each side will have to cover their own bill. This could be a huge irritation for contractors at any time, let alone the downturn.”

Lawyers say the maximum a contractor could be forced to pay was £80,000 per tribunal. However, many workers have launched more than one claim. Steve Acheson, a Unite branch official who was blacklisted for nine years, has launched 15.

CB&I and Atlanco were unavailable for comment.