MPs summon UK Contractors Group to give evidence as Unite union says industry is “in complete denial”


Source: PA Photos

A committee of MPs investigating blacklisting in the industry is to call the UK Contractors Group (UKCG) to give evidence amid mounting pressure on the main contractors involved in the scandal.

Building understands the Scottish Affairs committee, which has now been investigating blacklisting for more than a year, will hear from the director of the UKCG, Stephen Ratcliffe, later this month.

Up until now, the UKCG – which represents most of the main contractors which paid for the services of the now defunct blacklisting firm the Consulting Association – has refused to discuss blacklisting, describing it as a “historic problem”.

The committee’s decision to call Ratcliffe also follows its interim report in April, which was highly critical of the evidence on blacklisting it heard under oath from three of the major contractors involved – UKCG members Balfour Beatty, Sir Robert McAlpine and Skanska.

On Tuesday, the committee heard from a boss of the UK’s biggest union, Unite, who claimed the construction industry is in “complete denial” over blacklisting.

Unite’s assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “If [the industry] wasn’t in denial, they would be asking to see the evidence we have and would be interested in joining up the dots.”

She added: “We believe the industry is unrepentant and only regrets being caught.”

Cartmail revealed that Unite has already spent “millions” of pounds on its anti-blacklisting lobbying campaign, which is currently focused on allegations that the practice is still taking place on the £15bn Crossrail project under joint venture consortium Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK).

Cartmail admitted she was unable to prove blacklisting is taking place on Crossrail but said the union had assembled large amounts of “circumstantial evidence” including the project’s employment of several HR managers who previously worked with the Consulting Association.

She said: “I hope you will agree that only the chronically incurious will draw the conclusion that blacklisting is not a contemporary issue.”

Unite is supporting the employment tribunal claim of former Crossrail worker Frank Morris who claims he was the victim of anti trade union blacklisting on the project and was sacked from the project last year alongside his subcontractor EIS and 27 other workers.

The chairman of the Scottish Affairs committee, Ian Davidson MP, confirmed it is now looking into the Crossrail project.

He said: “Our inquiry so far has raised more questions than it has answered, particularly around compensation for all those who were affected, and what penalties should be imposed on those who engaged in blacklisting.

“But the big question that remains is, is this egregious practice actually still going on? Are people still being systematically, unfairly discriminated against in this way?

“We have heard disturbing suggestions that it is still going on, and possibly in the context of a massive public infrastructure project, Crossrail. It is crucial to get to the truth of this.”

A spokesperson for Crossrail said: “Blacklisting is very clearly an unacceptable and illegal practice. Unite could not provide the Scottish Affairs Committee with any proof or substantive evidence that blacklisting has taken place on Crossrail. Since September 2012, the Unite union, has made a series of unsubstantiated allegations against Crossrail Limited as part of an on going leverage campaign. Crossrail has made repeated requests to be provided with any evidence of the claims made against it by Unite but nothing has been forthcoming.

“Crossrail has asked for and received assurances from all its principal contractors providing confirmation that none have engaged in any blacklisting activity on the Crossrail project. The conditions of Crossrail’s construction contracts oblige all contractors to implement policies that allow employees to join trade unions. Crossrail has established a regular forum with senior representatives of the construction trades unions where any concerns can be directly raised but Unite has chosen not to attend. Unite wrongly claims that trade union representation is not permissible on contractor sites but at BFK’s Westbourne Park site, for example, a Unite shop steward and Unite safety representative play an active role.”