The most revealing fact about the construction industry blacklist as the High Court case gets under way against McAlpine and other building firms is that the ICO raid on the Droitwich offices of the Consulting Association (CA) in February 2009 only focused on 5-10% of the materials found there.
This was stated recently by the Investigations Manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who, when asked why other material was not seized, said simply that “that was the extent of the cover of our warrant” (i.e. to search for evidence of a construction blacklist). It is very likely that a number of other blacklists or intrusive records exist which clearly should now be uncovered and disclosed, and I have written to the ICO and the MOJ urging that this be now done.
The scale of this scandal is far greater than has previously been recognised. So far 84 claimants are pursuing a High Court action claiming lost earnings of anything from £20,000 to £450,000. That could well involve the industry with a liability of £tens of millions. Since the details of 3,213 construction workers were found on the CA database, it is likely, if this initial court action is successful, that the remaining 3,100 or more workers will also press claims which could lead to some £600m damages being awarded against the employers.
The information contained on the files is toxic. For no other reason that being suspected ‘trouble makers’ taking part in trade union activity or querying health and safety standards, they were listed by full name, date of birth, home address, national insurance number, car registration number, details of past employment, trade union membership, and any industrial disputes they may taken part in. The files often also record the advice given, including for example to employ “under no circumstances whatsoever”.
There are humdreds of building workers who don’t realise that their names and advice against their employment are recorded there. Rather than publishing the whole list, the ICO has so far only invited inquiries from those who suspect they may be listed. About 600 have inquired, and 194 have been told they were on the files. I have accordingly also asked the ICO to publish the full list, together with all the names of the companies involved. It is known that over 40 construction firms were paying £3,000 a year to access names on the list.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that 90-95% of these job-destroying records have still not been opened up. This is arguably the biggest conspiracy against working people and their fundamental rights since the early nineteenth century.