Top building firms say blacklisting now ‘a closed chapter’
By Adam Shaw
A black list of construction workers maintained by the industry’s biggest employers from the early 1970s until recently will never happen again, the companies promised the High Court last week.
Trade unions Unite, Ucatt, the GMB and the Blacklist Support Group issued a joint statement with Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci saying they had reached agreement.
The construction firms were collectively referred to in proceedings as the Macfarlanes defendants. In the weeks ahead of the court hearing before High Court judge Mr. Justice Supperstone – Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci – made out of court settlements with over 700 claimants totalling more than £25m.
After the public apology and joint statement many of the blacklisted construction workers were left with mixed emotions as their three year legal battle came to an end. Many of them said they want a public inquiry.
Hundreds of workers are set to receive compensation, with payouts said to range from £25,000 to £200,000 per claimant depending on the circumstances of their cases.
‘To wait for such a long time,and get this result is definitely good news’
Four further firms (not represented by Macfarlanes) – Cleveland Bridge, Amec, Bam and Lendlease – were reported to have also settled all claims. The joint statement said the contractors offered their “sincere and unreserved apologies to the claimants for any damaged caused”.
A spokesperson for the Macfarlanes group said: “Our apology was given sincerely and was genuinely accepted by all parties. This was a key part of the agreement that was reached.
“It’s a closed chapter. The industry has learned and changed as a result of this case.
“The Macfarlanes Defendants have put in place policies and training programmes to ensure this can never happen again.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement so settlements can be paid without a lengthy court process, saving on cost for all parties.”
After the statement was read out, Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith shouted: “Under no circumstances do we consider this to be a sincere apology.” Protestors supporting the workers and opposing the decision chanted “no justice, no peace” both in and out the courtroom throughout proceedings.
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Blacklisting became pubic knowledge in 2009 when the Information Commissioner’s Office seized a Consulting Association database of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep trade union and health and safety activists out of employment.
“Good versus evil”
Blacklisted worker, Roy Bentham told the Irish World: “This whole story has a very simple narrative – it’s good versus evil.
“In terms of compensation, it’s great to get so much back for so many people but I see it as nothing more than a great start, it’s still not justice.
“We will only have full closure when people are held accountable and brought to justice.
“In that way, I actually think the court has failed us, we’ve not completely finished yet.”
Mr Bentham and the Blacklist Support Group said they plan to try to take the issue further and have renewed their calls for a public inquiry into blacklisting.
“We’re confident that we’ll get there, these criminals are going to look foolish in the end,” he said.
Mr Bentham, of Liverpool, who survived the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989, was blacklisted in 1995 and spent 14 years struggling to find work. He described the process as “infuriating” and how it resulted in long stretches of unemployment. He added that he often found himself working on smaller building sites for less pay or having to travel all over the country to try and find work.
“One of the things that hit me hardest was when I couldn’t get involved with Liverpool ONE, the Laing O’Rourke project,” he said.
“They wouldn’t take me on for love nor money and this was the biggest construction project in Western Europe for four years.”
He said blacklisting of workers who highlight health and safety violations is still prevalent in the construction industry.
“The sad thing is, this isn’t over. I’ve got evidence of certain people not being able to get work on certain projects,” he explained. “I actually wanted to address the court and say ‘look, this is still going on’, I wanted to get it out into the open.
“It’s terrible really; the establishment is just taking advantage of good, honest, working class people.”
“It was a superb effort from everyone involved, right from the grassroots level,” he said. “For us to wait for such a long time, to carry on the fight and get this result is definitely good news.
“I’m so proud of everyone involved; we’ve really banded together and put all tribal differences aside.
“There were a lot of people in the Northwest who suffered – lots of Mancunians and a lot of lads from Liverpool – but they’ve come together for a common goal.”
“I’ve got a 12-year-old daughter and I’m going to make sure she never has to go through something like this,” he said.
Referring to Mr. Bentham’s statement he wants to take his complaint further the spokesman said: “The settlement covered all of the claimants. As the judge said today, if there is a disagreement it is a matter between Roy Bentham and his solicitors.”