A first group of UK construction workers who were victims of an illegal blacklist operated by a number of large contractors have won compensation, in some cases as much as £200,000 ($288,000) each.
Seventy-one bricklayers and carpenters have now received "a full and final settlement" worth £5.6m ($8m) in total from the companies involved, construction union Ucatt announced this week.
In all, more than 2,000 UK workers are seeking compensation for being blacklisted by companies who used a database maintained by a secretive agency called the Consulting Association since the early 1990s.
Ucatt itself has a total of 160 cases for the victims of blacklisting and negotiations are ongoing for compensation for the remaining ones.
Unless settlement is agreed the cases will go to trial in May 2016, Ucatt said.
The compensation is for breach of confidence and misuse of private information, breach of the Data Protection Act 1988, defamation and loss of earnings.
I’m really pleased for the lads who’ve got that money. It’s great for them but it only represents 71 of the 3,213 workers– Alan Wainwright, former HR manager with Haden Young
Pay-outs averaged £80,000 each, but some were as high as £200,000 to compensate workers for years of unemployment.
Brian Rye, the acting general secretary of Ucatt, said: "This initial tranche of compensation is the first significant milestone in the battle to win justice for blacklisted workers. I hope that this compensation will provide some recompense for these members who have suffered appalling treatment at the hands of the blacklisters."
The Ucatt claimants are among more than 2,000 workers who are seeking compensation for losses they suffered owing to their time on the blacklist. A number are pursuing a legal case in the High Court against contractors who subscribed to the list, with a full trial due in May.
The existence of the blacklist was revealed in 2009 after an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which polices data privacy laws, found 3,213 handwritten files in the Consulting Association’s back-street office in the English town of Droitwich.
Subsequent inquiries by the ICO and a committee of the House of Commons found that 44 of the UK’s leading contractors had been involved in the blacklisting.
They also found that the police, the security services and union officials had supplied information on workers, and that as many as 40,000 names had gone through the system.
The investigation was triggered by evidence collected by Alan Wainwright, a former HR manager with Haden Young, the M&E subsidiary of Balfour Beatty. After he blew the whistle on a suspected fraud, he was himself blacklisted and unable to find employment in the construction industry.
Wainwright, who is conducting his own legal campaign on behalf of himself and workers, told GCR: "I’m really pleased for the lads who’ve got that money. It’s something I’ve worked towards for the past 10 years and I’m continuing to work to put the companies under pressure to raise those amounts. We’re starting to see some real compensation and it gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction."
He added: "It’s great for them but it only represents 71 of the 3,213 workers."
Dave Smith, an organiser of the Blacklist Support Group, commented on organisation’s Facebook page: "The £5.6m is compensation for only 71 blacklisted workers – the real cost to the firms will be the billions in lost public contracts their conviction in the High Court trial. Real justice will be when the wretches who orchestrated this human rights conspiracy get sent to jail."
Photograph: Some of the blacklisted workers at a High Court hearing (Blacklist Support Group)