MPs investigating blacklisting say firms must make amends or face being barred from public work
Construction firms linked to blacklisting must take steps to make amends, including admitting guilt and paying full compensation, a report by MPs investigating the matter has said.
The report, published by the Scottish Affairs Committee, sets out how firms linked to infamous blacklisting organisation the Consulting Association (TCA) can make amends and says that any firms that do not take the appropriate steps should be barred from gaining any publicly-funded work.
Blacklisting came to light in 2009 when the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) seized a TCA database of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists used by 44 companies to vet new recruits.
Last October eight firms - Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci - established a Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (CWCS) in a bid to resolve the dispute.
Talks about the scheme are ongoing, with unions describing the levels of compensation offered under it as inadequate.
In their report, the MPs said firms linked to blacklisting through their use of the TCA must undertake a process of “self-cleaning”, including “an admission of guilt, paying full compensation and taking other appropriate remedial steps”.
Importantly, the MPs added: “It is key that the levels of restitution should not be solely for the companies themselves to determine, but must be agreed after negotiations with the relevant trade unions and representatives of blacklisted workers.”
The MPs added that where the victim of blacklisting had died, compensation should be paid to their surviving family.
The MPs said firms linked to blacklisting through TCA who do not “self-clean” should be barred from gaining any publicly funded work.
The MPs highlighted steps being taken by the Welsh and Scottish government to “blacklist the blacklisters”, such as including new PQQs in public tenders requiring contractors linked to TCA to demonstrate how they have adequately “self-cleaned”.
The report called for the UK government to follow the example of the devolved governments.
The report said: “We recommend that firms that have been involved in blacklisting should be required to demonstrate how they have ‘self-cleaned’ before being allowed to tender for future public contracts.
“It is our view that firms which do not participate fully in an agreed compensation scheme after having been caught using the blacklisting service of TCA or any similar conspiracy, should be deemed not to have ‘self-cleaned’”.
The report said that as part of their investigation they had written to firms connected to TCA who had yet to sign up to the CWCS asking them why they had not signed up.
Of those that replied, the MPs said three firms – Bam Nuttall, Emcor and NG Bailey – said they were waiting for more details of the scheme to emerge before making a decision; one firm, Willmott Dixon, said they were not contacted about the scheme; and the remainder, including Amey, Shepherd Group, and Miller Construction, denied they ever made use of TCA’s services.
The report also hit out at construction firms for failing to deal with the issue of blacklisting themselves, saying “all the information available to us suggests that most of the firms involved would have continued to use TCA and its sinister and odious practices had they not been caught”.
It said this attitude was “epitomised by the appalling performance” of UK Contractors Group (UKCG) director Stephen Ratcliffe, whose appearance before the committee last year was slammed at the time by MPs as “evasive” and as “reflecting very badly” on the industry.
Davidson said: “Although blacklisting is illegal now, it is not enough to just end the practice. Reparations must be made, and steps must be taken so that we are pro-actively preventing these practices - and the health and safety problems they lead to - rather than just stopping it when it happens.
“Companies that are caught blacklisting now, or do not make the proper reparations, or do not apply agreed standards of practice in their contracts, should be ‘blacklisted’ themselves and barred from obtaining any publicly-funded work.
“It is impossible to fully quantify the damage that may have been done to people’s careers and livelihoods, and to their families, as well as to health and safety on site, by these practices, but restitution must be made.
“It must not be left just to the companies themselves to determine what this should be, but it must be agreed after negotiations with the relevant trade unions and representatives of blacklisted workers.
“It must also be applied to all the victims of blacklisting who have yet to be identified, and where the victim has died, compensation must go to their families.”
In response - main contractors
In a statement in response to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee report, the UK Contractors Group (UKCG), which represents main contractors, issued the following statement:“UKCG agrees that the historic practice of blacklisting was wrong and believes that the construction industry has begun to take the steps to remedy any wrongdoing, through the announcement of the Construction Workers’ Compensation Scheme.
“UKCG is working to get the commitment of its members to ensure that this practice is never allowed to happen again.
UKCG has supported the introduction of a code of good vetting practice, led by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) as an independent body, which has recently been published.
These steps are in addition to the Construction Industry Joint Council (CIJC) Working Rule Agreement, which contains a clear commitment that the practice of blacklisting is unacceptable and contains grievance procedures that can deal with any allegations of the practice.
UKCG members are determined to ensure that this historic practice does not damage the important role that construction plays in the UK economy, providing over two million direct jobs and contributing £83bn per year to our economy.
Through their actions, members hope to demonstrate not only a commitment to providing much needed growth through infrastructure projects of all sizes, but also a commitment to providing good quality construction jobs and employment opportunities across the UK.”