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MPs 'highly critical' of building firms over blacklist compensation

Construction companies accused of "misleading" MPs over compensation scheme for blacklisted workers.

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Construction companies have been accused of an "act of bad faith" and of "misleading" MPs over a compensation scheme for blacklisted workers.

A damning report by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee said eight firms behind the scheme were more interested in minimising damage to their reputation and finances rather than a genuine attempt to tackle the scandal.

The MPs called for a full public inquiry into blacklisting, something Labour has promised if it wins the general election.

The blacklist was discovered in 2009 after a raid by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) on the West Midlands offices of a firm called the Consulting Association.

The ICO seized a database containing the names of over 3,000 construction workers and environmental activists, which was used by dozens of companies.

The Consulting Association has since been closed down.

Workers said they were included on the list often for merely raising health and safety concerns on building sites, or for being union activists, with many believing they had been denied work as a result.

In the final report of its current term, the committee said it was difficult to conclude that publicity around the launch of the compensation scheme last year was a "deliberate attempt to mislead", and that the implication unions were in agreement was "callous and manipulative".

As well as an inquiry, a statutory code of practice was required to eradicate blacklisting, the committee said.

Labour MP Ian Davidson, who chairs the committee, said: "The unilateral introduction of a compensation scheme was an act of bad faith by those involved, likely to be motivated by a desire to minimise financial and reputational damage rather than being a genuine attempt to address the crimes of the past.

"To mislead MPs is a serious issue but to mislead blacklisted workers and their families by implying that the trade unions were in agreement with the scheme is both callous and manipulative.

"While we are highly critical of the scheme and the way it was introduced, at least those eight companies have made even this effort.

"We do not accept the excuses made from the other companies for their non-participation and interpret this as evidence of their unwillingness to self-cleanse."

The committee said the ICO should redouble its efforts to contact people on the blacklist, adding that many questions remained unanswered, including recent allegations of police involvement.

"We are specifically concerned as to whether the extent and breadth of the practice is fully known, and whether this odious practice is ongoing within the construction industry," Mr Davidson added.

Justin Bowden, GMB national officer said: "This excellent report reflects how sick to death everyone is of the construction companies and their arrogant, bully boy attitude.

"Their actions towards those they blacklisted since they got caught shows that they believe they did nothing wrong."

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group said: "This damning report is supported by all political parties and condemns the grandees of the construction industry for the blacklisting wretches they are.

"The mis-named compensation scheme set up unilaterally by the blacklisting firms is a complete insult to those who have lost their jobs, their homes and in some cases their lives."

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: "The report is a damning indictment of the underhand and cruel tactics that the construction industry employed against decent workers prepared to stand up and be counted on such issues as health and safety.

"Whoever is in government after May's general election must respond to the repeated call for a full public inquiry into the long-running issue of blacklisting."

Steve Murphy, general secretary of Ucatt, said: "The committee has condemned the counterfeit compensation scheme in the strongest possible terms.

"The scheme has no credibility and workers who have had their lives ruined have seen it is simply a cheap way to gag them and deny them justice."

A statement by the construction firms who launched the compensation scheme said: "We remain fully committed to the scheme which, as of Friday 20 March 2015, had received more than 480 enquiries, 233 eligible applications and had compensated 149 people.

"We continue to look for ways in which we can reach those whose names were held on the records and we welcome the committee's encouragement for the unions to facilitate, rather than obstruct, that process.

"Each of the eight companies involved is determined to ensure this issue stays in the past and would comply fully with any code of conduct - either statutory or voluntary - that may be introduced to this end."

The eight companies are Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O'Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci PLC.

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