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Saturday 6th
posted by Morning Star in Features

HOWARD BECKETT explains how unions can win justice for victims of an illegal plot

UNITE’S legal strategy against blacklisters has taken many ideas from phone-hacking cases.

Not only does the construction companies’ blacklist amount to an illegal conspiracy, we’ve argued, but it also involves defamation and misuse of private and confidential personal data — in breach of the Data Protection Act.

Unite has claimed that putting a worker’s name on the blacklist meant that they were not suitable for employment, and that this was defamatory. Each supply of information is a defamatory act and violates the worker’s right to privacy and confidentiality — as claimed by the victims of phone hacking — and rights under the Data Protection Act.

We’re in no doubt that taking this tack has been beneficial to Unite members. Not only has Unite gone after the firms themselves, but also those individual directors who had been chairman on the Consulting Association — holding to account the companies as a whole and those individuals who orchestrated the blacklist.

The most high-profile example is the recent naming of Callum McAlpine as a man we say was at the heart of the blacklist. From the outset, we condemned the imposition of a miserly compensation scheme set up by the employers as an attempt to buy their way out of court. We advised members to reject the scheme, and were backed up by Parliament’s Scottish affairs committee.

This strategy was vindicated when several companies admitted to defamation and issued an apology in October. They admitted that a name on a reference card was defamatory. They admitted breaches of rights to privacy and confidence. They admitted that they had breached the Data Protection Act. They admitted that the consequence was lost work opportunities or refusals of work. They said that they “offer their unreserved apologies.” But they haven’t admitted that their misconduct amounts to a conspiracy.

So we are still fighting for maximum compensation for all victims of blacklisting, as well as the things that money can’t buy — retraining and jobs, continuing disclosure of documents and more far-reaching apologies.

Unite is committed to this approach and has offered support to those who are not represented by Unite but are Unite members. And while blacklisted workers wait for justice, Unite will challenge the eligibility of those companies for public contracts.

The difference with phone-hacking is that victims of phone-hacking have had the Leveson inquiry. They have seen the resources of the state put behind a full-blown public inquiry into the gross misconduct of the major media corporations involved.

The state has shown no willingness so far to give blacklisted workers the public inquiry they deserve. But that is what Unite will continue to demand for the victims of blacklisting.

  • Howard Beckett is Unite legal director.