The compensation payments relate to the discovery in 2009 of a secret blacklist of thousands of construction workers compiled and kept by The Consulting Association (TCA) from 1993. This was used by a number of construction companies for employment vetting purposes and particularly against workers involved in trade union activities, many of whom found themselves unable to get work.
Following an investigation by the Information Commissioners Office under the Data Protection Act, the Chief Officer of TCA was fined £5,000 (the maximum then available) in July 2009 for breaching the Data Protection Act by unlawfully processing sensitive data.
The ICO’s action provided evidence to numerous construction workers that they had been blacklisted and this was, presumably, why they had not received work on major construction projects. Subsequently, several unions brought civil claims in the High Court on behalf of the construction workers seeking compensation relating to the TCA blacklist including breach of the Data Protection Act, confidentiality, privacy and reputation.
Substantial compensation relating mainly to loss of earnings has now been paid out as a result of settlement of the High Court action by the construction companies, amidst much publicity.
The ICO’s action led to the implementation of the ‘Blacklisting Regulations’ in 2010. These regulations make it unlawful to compile, use, sell or supply ‘prohibited lists’ which are lists containing details of trade union members or activists, past or present, used for employment vetting purposes. The regulations also create rights for employees and workers not to be refused employment including the services of an employment agency, dismissed or subjected to detriment by their employer for a reason connected to the prohibited list.
The Blacklisting Regulations have strengthened workers rights. However, some unions do not feel that the regulations go far enough as the unlawful activity is not a criminal offence. Given the High Court litigation and the blacklisting regulations, there are certainly strong deterrents against construction companies using blacklists in the future including ‘verbal’ lists and there have been few reported cases since 2010.
Workers who say they were blacklisted by construction companies have won millions in compensation after a long-running legal battle finally ended.
The union Unite has reached a settlement with construction firms that will mean 256 workers share more than £10m in compensation.
The amount will depend on factors such as loss of income.
In some cases, the blacklist included details of worker’s political views, competence, and trade union activities.
The list had been used by dozens of construction firms to vet those applying for work on building sites.