Scottish Affairs Committee reports on blacklisting, LNB News 27/03/2015 102
The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (TCWCS) launched by eight of 30 companies involved in blacklisting was done so as a deliberate attempt to mislead, according to the final report from the Scottish Affairs Committee. The report describes the scheme's introduction as an 'act of bad faith', and the implication of trade unions being in agreement with the scheme as 'callous and manipulative'.
What is the background to this report?
The report follows the well-publicised investigation into The Consulting Association (TCA) which maintained a list of 3,213 workers' details which was used by construction companies to avoid their recruitment. The report states that 643 workers have since raised High Court action.
30 leading construction companies are alleged to have used the services of TCA, some of whom deny liability.
However eight of these companies agreed to set up TCWCS to provide an alternative means of financial redress.
The parliamentary committee's report examines the setting up and operation of TCWCS.
What did the committee have to say about TCWCS?
The committee considered that the eight participating companies had taken 'a small step' to acknowledge their past behaviour and make amends. However, it was disappointed that no agreement was reached with the trade unions on the scheme's terms. Moreover, the committee concluded that the material produced to launch the scheme, including a letter to all MPs, implied that such agreement had indeed been reached. It also expressed its concern about some of the scheme's details. This included low compensation levels, that those who pursued court action were not eligible and the scheme's failure to incorporate any type of positive action measures to upscale and re-employ the victims of blacklisting.
What is the significance of the conclusion that the scheme was 'an act of bad faith by those involved'?
There were doubts in the committee's mind as to the sincerity of the participating companies' motivations and the real extent to which they may or may not have 'self-cleansed' which it believed was a key factor in avoiding future similar behaviour. Page 2 The committee remained concerned as to whether the extent and breadth of blacklisting is fully known and whether this is an ongoing practice within the construction industry. It decided that the only way to fully answer these questions was to recommend that there should be a full public inquiry which should be set up as a matter of priority in the new Parliament. If that happens, this could result in many employers in the construction industry, and perhaps beyond, being the subject of major public scrutiny.
What is the significance of the recommendations that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) take steps to assist blacklisted workers?
The committee's main concern is that the victims of blacklisting are compensated. Only approximately 1,000 of the 3,213 workers whose names appeared on the TCA list have sought redress in court or through TCWCS. The ICO has access to the original blacklist held by the TCA and has contacted around 1,700 individuals. The committee recommended that the ICO redouble its efforts to find and contact as many of these individuals as possible, including families of those who may be deceased. TCWCS administrators do not have access to the historic TCA data.
How can the individuals seek redress?
Redress is available through the courts or by waiving this right and submitting details to TCWCS which has a fast-track and alternative full review procedure. Legal costs are covered by the scheme. The fast-track process does not require applicants to prove actual loss to assess compensation, nor do they need to prove that they have been the victims of unlawful activity. The case is decided on paper based submissions. Fast-track compensation ranges from £4,000 to £20,000. The full review process can be used where there is evidence that workers' records were accessed and involves a more detailed investigation. Compensation can be up to £100,000.
What are the general lessons to be learned from the blacklisting saga?
Employers who participate in such unlawful practices run the risk of significant reputational and commercial damage.
It is clear that employers need to have in place appropriate pre-employment checks which are not only non-discriminatory in terms of the equality legislation but also emphasise the illegality of using blacklists for any purpose in employment. The committee welcomed the Welsh Government's pioneering approach to tackling blacklisting through public procurement. One of the key elements of this approach is that companies who have participated in blacklisting should undertake self-cleansing before being allowed to bid for future public contracts. There is a risk that the blacklisters will themselves be blacklisted in public sector tenders if they do not heed the lessons of the past.
Interviewed by Alex Heshmaty.