Building firms face fines over "blacklist"

A labourer walks along scaffolding at a construction site, August 11, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer

LONDON (Reuters) - Construction firms have been illegally buying information on employees and blacklisting those suspected of union activity, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and unions said on Friday.

Some of the country’s best known builders, including Balfour Beatty, Costain and Amec, now face legal action for paying to vet potential employees.

The ICO said it raided an office in Droitwich, Worcestershire, last month and seized a database containing the details of 3,213 construction workers which was used by over 40 companies to vet individuals for employment.

The information includes information such as workers’ personal relationships, trade union activity and employment history.

The ICO said the firm holding the database, known as the Consulting Association, appeared to have been running it for more than 15 years.

It said it found evidence that construction firms subscribed to the list for a 3,000 pound annual fee. Invoices to construction firms for up to 7,500 pounds were seized during the raid.

Construction union UCATT called on the government to outlaw blacklisting, saying that firms were using information on the database to deny work to people on the basis of trade union activities.

“UCATT members know from bitter experience of being refused work that blacklisting exists in construction. However the extent of the practice and the fact that most of the major companies in construction are involved in the practice is truly shocking,” said the union’s general secretary Alan Ritchie.

“It is outrageous that construction workers have been barred from jobs simply for being trade unionists.”

Reporting by Frank Prenesti; Editing by Steve Addison