Library operators Carillion’s shady record on blacklistings

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is not alone in being spied upon by her “friends”. The practice has been happening a lot closer to home, even in the workplace, and conducted on behalf of one firm that is coming to Croydon.

Blacklist bannerAs the few trained librarians who remain in Croydon’s 13 public libraries get used to the idea of being under their third employer in almost as many weeks, they may be a little concerned to discover that Carillion, the company which last week acquired the Croydon library contract through a corporate takeover, is the subject of two separate High Court compensation class actions over unlawful surveillance and the blacklisting of workers.

The court claims arise from Carillion’s involvement in a 15-year industrial espionage operation which was conducted on behalf of more than 40 construction companies by an organisation called the Consulting Association.

The Consulting Association held files on more than 3,000 people. The surveillance operation was used to prevent health and safety reps and union activists from getting employment. The blacklisted workers’ claims include loss of earnings and defamation, given the damage to workers’ reputation from being on the blacklist. The Consulting Association was shut down following an official raid on its offices in 2009.

Two weeks ago Carillion joined with seven other construction firms – including Sir Robert McAlpine, the builders of Croydon’s £140 million glass palace council offices – to announce a compensation fund for workers affected by blacklisting. Few details of the amounts involved or the claims mechanism have emerged, and workers representatives have remained sceptical, believing that the fund is a device to reduce the potential for the court awarding punitive damages.

“This is a cynical move intended to reduce corporate reputational damage,” a spokesman said. “We do not for one second believe that these companies have suddenly seen the light. Most of the senior managers implicated in the blacklisting conspiracy are still in post. The only thing they regret is being caught.”

The first court hearings have been scheduled for next month.

The GMB union, which brought one of the actions on behalf of 70 of its members in June this year, allege an unlawful conspiracy operated by the construction firms, which they see as a systematic campaign to wipe out union organisation on construction sites.

The GMB says documentary evidence shows 224 construction workers were victims of blacklisting by Carillion alone. Officials estimate the construction giant may have vetted the names of nearly 15,000 people between 1999 and 2004.

Thinking twice about what library books you take out now?

Last month, Carillion suffered a blacklisting of its own, being banned from the Labour party conference at Brighton. A corporate spokesman said: “Our chief executive, Richard Howson, has expressed regret for the past involvement of a former subsidiary, but it is important to understand that Carillion has never been involved with activity that was illegal.”

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