Blacklisting: Much more than a formal list

21st November 2016

Once dismissed as a delusional conspiracy, in recent times blacklisting in the UK has been shown to be a very real problem. This was was highlighted in the now infamous case of the Consulting Association, the innocuously named company that held a blacklist of over 3,200 names of individuals working in the construction industry who were deemed undesirable by a number of construction companies.

Typically, the blacklisted names belonged to individuals who were involved in union activities or those who had raised concerns about health and safety, whistleblowers.

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group was targeted after being elected as a health and safety representative for the UCATT: ‘From that day on, major construction companies started taking a keen interest in my activities - unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. In the next three years I was repeatedly refused work or dismissed from building sites and found myself virtually unemployable, even though this was the middle of the building boom and the industry was crying out for skilled workers.’

Last month the first major pay-outs were awarded to individuals on the Consulting Association blacklist. Some £5.6m is to be paid out to the victims of blacklisting. The case has been a long struggle for truth and justice which revealed corporate collusion with police and security services that had a devastating impact on the workforce, and their families and communities.
However it’s important to remember that insofar as blacklisting is concerned, this case is an anomaly. When the Information Commissioner’s Office investigated, they had the evidentiary advantage of having a database of names to refer to. In the vast majority of cases that involve blacklisting, there will not be a formal list. More often than not, the practice is far more insidious.

In a cruel twist of fate Alan Wainwright, a former construction industry manager and the whistleblower who helped to expose the Consulting Association blacklist, this month claimed that he has also been blacklisted. Wainwright, who lost his home, job and savings after blowing the whistle a decade ago, has said that he has unsuccessfully applied for over 150 jobs in the last 18 months. According to Wainwright: “These new claims arise because the companies involved continue to victimise me. I should not have to go through all this again.”
Wainwright’s case tells of a more common and complex form of blacklisting. Blacklisting can occur on receipt of a job application, at interview or when references are requested. Working in a close-knit industry or in a small community can also make securing future employment post whistleblowing challenging. It was for this reason that in 2013 the Whistleblowing Commission highlighted that there was a need to for legal protection for whistleblowers from blacklisting.

Following Freedom to Speak Up review into whistleblowing in the NHS, the coalition introduced protection for job applicants in the NHS. While the NHS is the UK’s largest employer, blacklisting can occur in any sector. While this is a positive development in relation to protecting NHS whistleblowers, it is clear that blacklisting can occur in any sector and in any industry. This amendment has the unintended consequence of fragmenting whistleblowing protection.
In light of these recent revelations, we would urge Government to reconsider reviewing this area of law. Under the Equality Act 2010, job applicants are considered workers and have the right not to be subject to discrimination. This principle should be consistent in PIDA 1998. Whistleblowers must be protected from blacklisting. Our police, care homes, banks need staff who are willing to stand up and challenge malpractice, the risks otherwise are far too high.