The UK building industry could face compensation claims running to hundreds of millions after a legal battle was launched by workers who say they were in effect barred from construction sites by a blacklist – as we reported here on Friday.
The list allegedly stretched to more than 3,000 named individuals with personal information gathered over more than 15 years.
On Saturday, Tom Watson urged the Information Commission to contact all 3,200 names on the list. Mr Watson, best known for his campaign against phone-hacking, said the Met Police had led the way in pro-actively approaching victims of data scandals. He said he sympathised with the ICO given its budget constraints but said it was incumbent upon them to act.
Now Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary – and rising star of the Labour party – has written directly to the Information Commission: here is his letter.
Dear Mr Graham,
Blacklisting – The Consulting Association
I am writing further to the evidence given last week by your officers to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee regarding the blacklisting of individuals by The Consulting Association (“CA”) and related enforcement action taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”).
As further evidence of blacklisting in the construction sector emerges, we already know that thousands of people have been affected, livelihoods have been destroyed, reputations unfairly tarnished and families torn apart by consequent financial stress. Employees were blacklisted merely for exercising their human right to belong to a trade union, standing up for their colleagues or for raising legitimate health and safety concerns.
I have seen at first hand examples of the files held by the CA, run by Ian Kerr until his premises were raided in 2009, and was shocked by both the scale of the blacklisting and the level of detail held on the files – in some cases they even included information on employees’ private lives.
The further tragedy is that the vast majority of the individuals affected have no idea that they were included on the CA list: no way to make sense of why work dried up and they were continually turned away from construction sites; and in some cases, why their lives fell apart.
Given the huge detrimental impact on those affected, it is imperative that they are informed so they can seek redress. With proceedings currently ongoing to seek compensation from firms which are alleged to have used the CA list, only a small window of time remains for those affected to add their names to the collective action. That is why we believe you must do everything in your power to ensure that the blacklisted workers are informed swiftly, adopting a proactive approach.
Giving oral evidence in Parliament last week, Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith admitted that the ICO could and should have done more to ensure that affected individuals were notified. It is crucial that this is now rectified.
I understand that the ICO is working alongside trade unions in order to facilitate this process, and we welcome this approach. However, in their evidence last week, your officers admitted that not all those on the list were trade union members, and so it is crucial that those who do not belong to a trade union who are on the list are not overlooked by the notification process adopted.
It emerged last week that when ICO officials conducted their search of Mr Kerr’s premises in 2009, 90 to 95 per cent of documents on the site were not removed and were left untouched. Understandably, this revelation has caused great concern: it is possible that there are many thousands more employees who were blacklisted, with their details held on files by Mr Kerr.
I would be grateful if you could clarify:
1. Why the ICO did not seek a further warrant to search Mr Kerr’s premises for other files;
2. Given that ICO officials giving evidence last week admitted that there were strong grounds for suspicion that files were passed to construction companies without employees’ knowledge or consent, why a warrant to search the firms listed as having used Mr Kerr’s blacklist was not sought.
3. Whether there are any further investigations ongoing in relation to the unrecovered documents, or have been attempted since the initial raid, and what steps you plan to take in this regard.
4. Are you pursuing investigations into whether blacklists existed in relation to other sectors or were operated and maintained by other bodies distinct from Mr Kerr and The Consulting Association.
I look forward to receiving your response.
Chuka Umunna MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills