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Moves to outlaw secret "blacklists" move forward

The Department for Business today launched a consultation on new regulations that will make it unlawful for trade union members to be denied employment through secret blacklists.

Business secretary Lord Mandelson said: “Blacklisting someone because they are a member of a trade union is totally unacceptable.

“I am determined to act quickly to stamp out this despicable practice. Today’s proposals outline how we will deliver this”.

The main proposals are:

  • to make it unlawful for organisations to refuse employment or sack individuals as a result of appearing on a blacklist
  • to make it unlawful for employment agencies to refuse to provide a service on the basis of appearing on a blacklist
  • to enable individuals or unions to pursue compensation or solicit action against those who compile, distribute or use blacklists

This consultation will run for a shorter than usual period of six weeks to enable legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible. Ministers plan to seek Parliamentary approval for the regulations in the autumn and implement them urgently as soon as it can thereafter.

In 2003, the government consulted on draft regulations, but at that time no hard evidence was found that blacklisting was taking place. In response to the consultation, the government committed to reviewing the issue if hard evidence came forward.

But in March the Information Commissioner reported that 40 construction companies had subscribed to a database used to vet construction workers, which has now been closed under data protection law. On 27 May, Ian Kerr, the individual who operated the database, pleaded guilty at Macclesfield Magistrates Court of committing a criminal offence under data protection law. He will be sentenced in due course.

In response to this new evidence on 11 May 2009, the government announced that it would seek to bring forward legislation to outlaw blacklisting.

The Unite union said the plans are welcome but overdue.

Unite’s assistant general secretary Les Bayliss said: “This is a welcome development but it’s long overdue. Too many construction workers have suffered victimisation at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

“Blacklisting was made illegal in the 1999 Employment Relations Act, however the necessary regulations were never enacted because the government claimed there was no evidence. The government must now act swiftly to end this unjust practice for good.”

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