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Construction firms in legal spat over £55M pay out to blacklisted workers

Rail workers

Eight major construction firms are involved in a legal dispute over a £55M compensation bill paid out to more than 1,000 workers who were illegally blacklisted because of their political beliefs. 

Workers obtained an out-of-court compensation settlement totalling £55M in 2016 after discovering that they had been put on a blacklist which prevented them from getting jobs due to their political beliefs.  

The blacklist - which contained previous employment records, details about trade union memberships and a summary of workers’ political stances - was circulated among construction firms with Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Skanska UK, Vinci, Carillion, Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty judged to be culpable for its production and use.

However, the eight firms are now pursing legal action to ensure that British firm Amec Foster Wheeler also contributes to the compensation bill. They argue that Amec, which became Amec Foster Wheeler in 2014, was responsible for providing 9% of the information contained in the blacklist files and accuse Amex of “wrongful involvement in and use of” the blacklist..

In papers submitted to the High Court, Amec claims that it is not culpable for the production and circulaton of the blacklists. 

The blacklisting effort had been covertly funded by more than 40 construction firms between 1993 and 2009 through an organisation called the Consulting Association. 

Blacklisted workers managed to access copies of the files on themselves after the blacklist was shut down by the government’s Information Commissioner. The watchdog named 44 firms, including five Amec-owned companies, as being responsible for funding the blacklist.

Together, the firms kept a database of individual workers by pooling information such as their suspected political sympathies, perceived militancy and details of their health and personal relationships. As a consequence, workers were barred from jobs and often endured long periods of unemployment, as the list was used to deny them work.

Before a High Court trial was set to start in 2016, the eight firms reached out-of-court settlements with the workers. So far, workers have been paid compensation amounting to £35M along with legal costs of £20M.

However, the eight construction firms are set to face a fresh round of compensation claims from more workers who claim they also were blacklisted, with a trial due to begin in early June.

A spokeswoman for the eight firms declined to comment on the dispute to New Civil Engineer, saying that it would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter.

New Civil Engineer has also contacted Wood Group,the oil services firm that bought Amec Foster Wheeler in 2017, for comment.

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