Protest highlights council’s failure to tackle blacklisting scandal

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As blacklisting in construction comes under national scrutiny once again, Unite Scotland has asked North Ayrshire Council to support its campaign to highlight the alleged wrongful dismissal of union members by construction consortium BAM, Ferrovial, Kier.

The move comes after union members staged a demonstration outside North Ayrshire Council’s offices in Irvine, protesting the sacking of several individuals allegedly for taking part in union activities and raising health and safety concerns on site.

North Ayrshire Council is currently part of the South West Scotland Hub, a group of public bodies that have commissioned projects from Kier, one of BAM, Ferrovial, Kier’s (BFK) consortium members.

BFK has recently found itself at the centre of a national blacklisting scandal after claims were made that workers had been targeted by contractors and denied future work after raising legitimate concerns about safety on the multi-million pound Crossrail project in London.

Jim Montgomerie, Saltcoats and Stevenston Councillor for the Scottish Labour Party, said: “Blacklisting has a huge effect on workers and their families because it denies people the privilege of working and being able to feed their families and pay their mortgages. It has a massive impact on people’s lives.

“In North Ayrshire, there are more than 75 people who have been affected by this. I’ve asked North Ayrshire Council not to have any contact with companies who have used blacklisting in the past or until those companies have apologised and paid their workers compensation.

“I don’t want North Ayrshire Council to be involved with these companies in any way. I think it’s something that we need to deal with and send out a clear message. Other councils in Scotland have already done that and I think we need to do the same.”

The protest outside Cunninghame House was one of more than a thousand union protests organised by Unite and Unite Scotland during the past few months as part of their national mobilisation against BFK. The Scottish Government is currently considering an act that would prevent companies from bidding for projects if they have been implicated in any blacklisting scheme and an increasingly large number of councils throughout the UK have already made moves to exclude such companies from local government contracts.

A spokesman for North Ayrshire Council said: “Earlier this year, the council agreed to make all construction companies bidding for council contracts fully aware that we will not tolerate the unlawful blacklisting of workers. The council’s Scrutiny Committee will consider a report by the Scottish Affairs Committee later in the year and decide whether to pursue legal avenues to address the issue.”

The Scottish Affairs Committee is currently looking into blacklisting on a national scale in an investigation that will look at some of the biggest names in British construction, including the company that is suspected to be behind the creation of the list, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.

The committee has revealed that in some instances, workers on the database were labelled as ‘trouble maker’ or ‘member of CP (Communist Party)’ and on several occasions, information later released to the individuals involved was found to be inaccurate, with several workers finding themselves listed as working on projects notorious for issues and disputes even though they had never been employed at these specific sites.

The issue of blacklisting in the construction industry first came to light in a 2008 Guardian investigation when it emerged that more than half of the country’s leading construction firms were using a list of blacklisted workers collated by the Consulting Association, an organisation shut down in 2009. At the time, unions said that the list had forced thousands of workers and their families into destitution as many were left without work for extended periods.

In June, a motion for North Ayrshire Council to abstain from using companies that had used the blacklist was defeated by a coalition of votes from SNP, Conservative and Independent councillors.

Kier has said that it does not condone blacklisting in any form.

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