Union launches new legal action over blacklisting of builders

The Unite union is seeking compensation for more than 70 construction workers who were “blacklisted” by some of Britain’s biggest construction firms.

The new legal action targets key individuals involved in a shadowy organisation, the Consulting Association, which the construction industry used to monitor more than 3,000 building workers.

It comes after about £10m was paid in compensation last year to more than 250 building workers on the blacklist, which is believed to have operated for 30 years. The Consulting Association’s offices were raided by the Information Commissioner’s Office after revelations in the Guardian.

The new case, involving workers not party to the previous legal action, names four individuals who all held the role of chairman at the Consulting Association: David Cochrane and Cullum McAlpine, previously of Sir Robert McAlpine; Danny O’Sullivan, formerly of Kier; and Stephen Quant, previously of Skanska.

Those companies and nine others are listed in the action, which alleges unlawful conspiracy, breach of privacy, defamation and Data Protection Act offences.

The Unite assistant general secretary for legal affairs, Howard Beckett, said: “Unite is determined to ensure that the people directly responsible for blacklisting workers and ruining their lives are brought to justice and have to answer for their actions.

“Since 2009, the individuals who were the controlling minds behind the systematic blacklisting of workers have sought to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. The workers who had their lives ruined deserve to see the leading blacklisters in court.”

It is understood that some of the workers involved in the new case have already been offered compensation, despite the formal closure of the previous compensation scheme.

One source told the Guardian that 55 such claims had been “fully settled”.

However, those individuals are understood to remain involved in the legal action as issues relating to retraining and apology remain.

Sir Robert McAlpine said in a statement that it had a “zero-tolerance policy towards blacklisting, illegal or unfair recruitment practices and we expect all our sub-contractors to comply with this”. It said it had also signed up to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority construction protocol to protect workers from exploitation.

“Blacklisting in construction was, until 2009, an industry-wide issue – most of the largest British construction companies in operation today were involved in the past when there was no legislation in place to outlaw the practice. Sir Robert McAlpine has admitted to, and apologised for, its past involvement and has paid compensation to affected workers,” it said. Only eight companies apologised and paid these financial settlements.

Kier and Skanska declined to comment.