ICO In Contempt Of Court On Blacklisting

16 Sep 2014

GMB seeks contempt of court ruling over the Information Commissioner’s Office refusal to obey a High Court order enabling unions to contact blacklisted construction workers. The ICO had no difficulty with following a court order to give workers’ names and addresses to the blacklisting employers but seem very reluctant to follow a very similar order in favour of the workers GMB says.

The TUC Congress in Liverpool was told that GMB started enforcement proceedings in the High Court on Friday 5th September over the failure of the information Commission Office (ICO) to comply with a High Court ruling that they hand over to trades unions the addresses of workers blacklisted by construction companies. Leigh Day solicitors, acting for GMB, has now filed an application for contempt of court based on the ICO breaching the group litigation order made in July that they hand over the addresses by August 25th. ICO admit they are in breach of the order.

Blacklisting came to light when in 2009 the ICO seized a Consulting Association database of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep out of employment trade union and health and safety activists. See notes to editors 2 for the 97 areas in Scotland listed alphabetically where workers blacklisted are from with numbers.
In July 2014, Leigh Day, acting for GMB, begun action in the High Court in London seeking compensation for 122 GMB members blacklisted by Carillion and other firms. GMB’s claims are joined with a further 449 claims by other unions and parties.

In June 2014 talks between GMB and lawyers representing eight construction employers on a compensation scheme for 3,213 blacklisted workers broke down in June over the amount of money being put into the scheme by the employers. The eight construction employers are Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI PLC.

Following the breakdown of talks these employers announced that they are unilaterally going ahead with a scheme GMB estimates will cost these employers between £15m and £20m. This is less than 2% of the combined profits of the eight construction firms in the talks.

So far 1,724 out of the 3,213 on the list know they are on blacklist. 467 were identified by themselves on by their unions. 570 cases are covered by claims in the High Court. ICO contacted direct a further 1,257 and of these 776 has now been sent a copy of their files.  That leaves 1,489 still to trace. On 15th April the ICO said: “We don’t plan to write out to any more people, as we believe we’ve written to everyone who we can be sure of having up-to-date details for.”

Michael Newman solicitor from Leigh Day said “The ICO had no difficulty with following a court order to give workers’ names and addresses to the Compensation Scheme, but seem very reluctant to follow a very similar order in favour of the workers.

The ICO have also complied with previous court orders in relation to The Consulting Association, so we cannot understand why they are now refusing to follow a court order. The ICO have admitted they are in breach of the group litigation order, and we intend to take every step to enforce that order, including contempt of court.”

Paul Kenny,GMB General Secretary, speaking at the TUC Congress said “Why doesn’t the ICO stop wasting taxpayers’ money and do what the High Court has ordered it to do? Yet again we see the ICO as state regulator appearing to bend over backwards to accommodate those guilty of blacklisting but this time also in contempt of a High Court. Instead of putting obstacles in the way of speedy justice and compensation for the victims of blacklisting, it should just give us the information the high court ordered it to and let us get on with the job of contacting those blacklisted.”