New laws introduced by the Scottish Government are to crack down on the blacklisting of workers, a practice that has gained notoriety in the construction industry.
Alex Salmond announced the measures in September, promising they would go further than those previously introduced by the Welsh government.
The Procurement Bill was sent to parliament on 12 September and may ensure that firms involved in blacklisting are excluded from public sector contracts in Scotland. It also promises to open up access to these contracts for many SMEs and third sector firms. Comments made by the first minister reported in The Scotsman said that the legislation will make a “difference to many lives.”
Wales has become the first UK country to try to curtail the practice, whereby workers have been excluded from employment opportunities because of trade union involvement or – the most common reason for being blacklisted, according to GMB national officer Justin Bowden – for raising health and safety concerns. The Welsh government plans to inform public sector bodies on how to exclude firms involved in blacklisting.
Commenting on the Welsh measures the First Minister said: “I welcome the actions of the Welsh government in tackling this unacceptable practice. Our Bill here in Scotland will give parliament the opportunity to go further, by taking the power to regulate how companies are selected to bid and how their suitability should be assessed. These regulations will address blacklisting, working within the framework of EU law.”
Labour also announced their intentions to launch a full enquiry into worker blacklisting, in addition to promising to outlaw zero-hours contracts. The party took the decision to exclude Carillion from the exhibition space at the event, following claims lodged in the High Court in London in June by GMB lawyers acting on behalf of 70 of its members blacklisted by Carillion, Sir Robert McAlpine and other firms.
The issue first came to public attention in 2009 when it emerged that around 3,000 names and personal details were being held in a central database by a group called The Consulting Organisation, and tagged with comments like “militant”, “trade unionist” and “not to be trusted”. In July 2012 Project Scotland reported on an ongoing investigation into the database by The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee, which had revealed that fewer than 200 blacklisted workers had managed to obtain the files kept about them on the same list. The organisation’s client list constituted a virtual who’s who of leading contractors.
The guidance issued by the Welsh government in September states: “Exclusion is not a means of punishing operators for past wrongdoing, but rather a means of putting right past wrongdoing and ensuring that it does not re-occur”.