Blacklisting is still threatening public safety, say campaigners

07 March 2019, Katie Coyne

A site safety sign

A culture of victimising whistleblowers, which undermines health and safety, is still ongoing, according to explosive evidence from an investigation into undercover policing. 

The Consulting Association became notorious a decade ago after it was discovered it had a blacklist of mostly construction workers and some environmentalists. 

The Creedon Report into Operation Reuben found that blacklisting is ongoing and Unite the Union and the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) are renewing their calls for a public inquiry, which would also cover contemporary blacklisting. 

The Metropolitan Police Special Branch was discovered to have aided the Association with information that went to help it compile the blacklist. And yesterday, evidence released as part of a public inquiry into the Met’s undercover policing revealed the extent to which it was involved. 

Unite and the BSG say this strengthens the argument that a full public inquiry into blacklisting should be held. The union is also pursuing Cullum McAlpine, the original chair of the Consulting Association, so that he gives evidence in court under oath. 

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The blacklisting of construction workers by the police is nothing short of criminal.

“The latest revelations demonstrate that this was not a one-off, or the actions of a rogue individual, but there was collusion between the blacklisters and the police on an industrial scale for decades.

“Workers and trade unionists will be alarmed at these revelations and there needs to be strict legal measures introduced to ensure that police collusion into blacklisting can never reoccur.”

The Consulting Association had files on 3,213 workers, although there is speculation that it could have had information on up to 60,000 people.

Blow to health and safety

Hilda Palmer, a spokesperson for the Hazards Campaign, a health and safety charity, said: “Blacklisting is very much about health and safety because safety reps and workers were frequently blacklisted for raising health and safety complaints. Workers were blacklisted for complaining about welfare apparatus, protective gear, even the state of the toilets and not just serious issues around working with asbestos.”

Palmer argued that blacklisting is a public health and safety issue as problems on construction sites that are not dealt with potentially pose hazards to those working or living in the structures once the construction crew has left. 

She pointed to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety following the Grenfell tragedy, in which Hackitt recommends that building regulations that require the site to contain people who are skilled and knowledgeable in safety issues are followed. While the review applies to purpose-built flats of 10 storeys or more, it was expected to be rolled out to include a wider set of buildings.

Being blacklisted: 'I thought it was just bad luck'

Roy Bentham, joint secretary of the BSG and on the Unite executive council, was blacklisted in 1995 for his involvement as a shop steward at the Connah’s Quay Power Station strike. He was an electrician and didn’t know he’d been blacklisted until 14 years later but had great difficulty finding work and spells of unemployment. His file contained just one page, relating to his participation in the strike.

He said: “I thought it was just bad luck – it was only when I read my file I realised and it hit me like a tonne of bricks. It was the only time I’d ever been on strike and it was worthwhile – there were terrible working conditions and safety issues and I felt compelled to do something to make it better.”

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