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Unions pledge action over construction worker blacklist

A carpenter whose name was discovered on a blacklist of thousands of construction workers was described as "very bad news - Buddhist", it has been revealed.

The bizarre description was made by a manager, who added that the worker "will close site", adding: "Do not divulge any of the above".

Another entry in the secret file said that a named worker "was observed on way to demo against BNP laying wreath at Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday", an industry source told the Press Association.

The revelations came as building workers' union Ucatt announced it will take action against a number of companies in the industry, including McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Laing O'Rourke.

Two other legal cases are being taken on behalf of workers whose names were on the blacklist, one by the GMB union and one by law firm Guney Clarke and Ryan. Both cases are due to start in the High Court next week.

A national day of action against blacklisting is being held by the TUC today, with protests across the country, as well as a lobby of Parliament.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady will call for a full inquiry into blacklisting, with the legal power to call witnesses and seize records.

She will tell the rally: "Blacklisting is real. It has ruined thousands of lives. Families are still suffering because a worker joined a union or raised a health and safety issue.

"Companies guilty of blacklisting should be barred from public contracts until they can demonstrate that they understand the basics of human rights and good industrial relations."

Ms O'Grady will say that blacklisting could not be "tacked" onto the recently-announced government inquiry into industrial relations.

"The inquiry is a cheap electoral stunt set up in response to a non-existent problem, a taxpayer-funded initiative devised to generate a union-bashing headline or two for the Conservative election campaign. Everyone knows that we already have the most restrictive laws on unions in any advanced democracy.

"Blacklisting is too serious an issue to be trusted to this inquiry on the off-chance it has a spare five minutes after it has carried out its party-political purpose. Blacklisted workers can have no confidence in an inquiry chaired by a barrister well-known for acting for employers and set up with no consultation with blacklisted workers or their unions."

Steve Murphy, general secretary of Ucatt, said: "Blacklisting companies wilfully destroyed the lives of ordinary construction workers and acted as though they were above the law. Our legal action will ensure that the victims receive the justice they deserve."

The blacklist was discovered after a raid in 2009 by the Information Commissioner's Office on the Consulting Association, which was later closed down.

The list contained the names of more than 3,200 mainly construction workers, often targeted for being union activists or for simply raising health and safety issues on building sites.

The names of environmental activists were also discovered, as well as others, including comedian Mark Thomas.

Unions said the file was used by 44 construction companies to vet new recruits and deny work to those on the blacklist.

The GMB said more than 2,700 of the 3,200 on the list are not aware their names were discovered.

Eight construction firms have set up a compensation fund, although no agreement has yet been reached on any payouts, which are not expected to be made until 2014.

Justin Bowden, national officer of the GMB, said: "This day of action is to give the message that all the companies who blacklisted workers must own up, clean up and pay up.

The union said the Government should have already launched an inquiry into blacklisting, which it described as "abuse on a massive scale on the civil and human rights of over 3,200 workers by 44 huge companies."

Unite leader Len McCluskey said: "Over the last 25 years, over 2,800 workers have lost their lives on construction sites, with countless others suffering from serious work-related health problems.

"But the 44 blacklisters believed that many of the courageous and decent union representatives who wanted to support their colleagues and save lives were just trouble makers. Instead of being encouraged and supported, they were blacklisted and robbed of their dignity - lives ruined, families destroyed - in some cases it even led to suicide.

"There is now a moral urgency for justice. Blacklisting is a scandal on the scale of phone hacking. Except it was ordinary working people whose lives have been torn apart by a conspiracy hatched by a greedy elite who were prepared to go to any length to attack decent hardworking men and women."

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From Belfast Telegraph