Unite launches investigation into blacklisting collusion

Unite is to launch an investigation into possible collusion by union officers in blacklisting.

Many trade unionists were blacklisted – barred from work – because their names appeared on a secret list published by the Consulting Association. Employers would pay to see the list before deciding which workers to hire. Suspicions have long existed there was collusion between union officers and the Consulting Association.

Now Unite’s chief of staff Andrew Murray has announced there will be an investigation into the claims, with any officials found guilty of collusion facing immediate disciplinary action.

In a letter to Unite construction and members and sector committee members, he wrote: “As you are aware the General Secretary committed to re-opening the investigation, once the current litigation concluded, as to whether there is any evidence of officer collusion in blacklisting (more formally referred to as the Consulting Associations vetting list).      

“The litigation has now concluded and the investigation can take place. 

“The investigation will be handled by Assistant General Secretaries Gail Cartmail and Howard Beckett. Where appropriate they will seek the assistance of outside solicitors and Counsel.”

The investigation will start on September 2, with all those wanting to give evidence to make it known by September 23. Oral evidence will be taken throughout October, with the investigation reporting to the December executive meeting.

Andrew Murray wrote: “There will be total transparency in regard to this investigation. All who give evidence will be asked to confirm that their evidence can be circulated. However individuals will be permitted to give anonymous evidence but clearly anonymity will impact upon the weight given to this evidence. 

“The position is quite clear. Should there be evidence of officer collusion then the action will follow under Unite’s disciplinary procedure, promptly and effectively. However should there not be such evidence then the matter will have come to a conclusion.”

The news was welcomed by the Blacklist Support Group, with joint secretary Roy Bentham saying: “We have been calling for an investigation into possible union collusion in blacklisting for ten years, we are therefore very pleased that this is now taking place.

“We do not for one moment think that every union official was conspiring with construction employers against their own members, but it is simply a fact that a number of blacklist files name union officials as the source of information. We are not looking for a witch-hunt but this must be fully investigated.

“There is a big battle to be had in the construction industry against companies who put profit before safety and who deny basic employment rights by engaging their workers on bogus self-employed precarious contracts. But this dark cloud of possible officer collusion, which has caused so much friction within the construction unions, needs to be removed once and for all”.

A delegation from the Blacklist Support Group has met with senior officials from Unite to clarify a number of issues. Speaking after the meeting, joint secretary Dave Smith said: “We have had assurances from Unite that the entire process, from collating the evidence to writing the final report, will be carried out by senior counsel and solicitors independently from the union.

“This is essential and we applaud the union for committing to such a transparent investigation: we intend to hold the union to that promise. We will be pointing the lawyers towards evidence we think is relevant, even if that upsets some people. We encourage any blacklisted worker who has concerns or evidence of possible union collusion to engage with this investigation, or contact BSG directly. BSG would not be involved in this process unless we thought it was capable of getting to the truth.”

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