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Simply being a member of a union or raising health and safety concerns can result in workers being blacklisted and denied employment in their trade. This is the account of blacklisted construction worker Steve Acheson.

Steve Acheson and othersIn March 2009, I received my 22 page file from the ICO with a list of 40 companies, in Construction and Mechanical & Engineering, that were subscribers. My file starts in April 2000 and confirmed what I had long suspected – that I was placed on the blacklist because of raising Health and Safety concerns and because I was suspected of being a member of the Electrical and Plumbers Industrial Union (the EPIU).

Evidence since has confirmed that this would be a significant reason for being on the blacklist; just suspicion was enough, and almost the entire EPIU membership was blacklisted. These 40 companies would collate data on individuals and access this data through what was known as the Consulting Association.

Each time the data was accessed by the member companies a small fee would be charges. This covertly run operation was basically a conspiracy to deny employment to the individuals on the list. My own file is full of inaccuracies and false allegations but this was irrelevant to the employers, as long as it achieved its purpose in keeping individuals off site.

The man running the operation for the companies, a Mr Ian Kerr, was fined £5,000 at Macclesfield Crown Court, and many companies changed their names, but at present their reputations remain untarnished and they remain unpunished for their unlawful activities , such as breach of data protection, and of human rights. As a result of my file and the use of the data, I have been unemployed for 9 of the last 11 years, and in the last 5 years have received only 16 wage packets.

This extraordinary detriment inflicted on 3,213 individuals has failed to draw any response from my own union, Unite. The blacklisting continues, and as a consequence impacts so unjustly on family members, and day-to-day family life.

On the few occasions I secured employment in my industry, I would be swiftly removed from site, and I have to date secured 4 successive employment tribunal victories.

In April 2000 I was one of 240 electricians dismissed for refusing to wear wet overalls and boots that would not dry because of inadequate drying facilities on the huge Pfeizer project in Sandwich, Kent. The site had been flooded in the worst rainfall since records began. This time of year (April) the weather was cold and our overalls, boots, etc stayed wet and gathered mildew, The operators made a common sense risk assessment, and refused to wear the items, sitting in the canteen for 2 days as management did nothing to replace or dry our items.

As we left site to return home, a line of supervisors and security confiscated our site passes, and issued dismissal letters. Significantly, that weekend drying facilities were installed, but not for our use; these were introduced for our replacements.

Subsequently, all the men were placed on the blacklist, and my file confirms that it would be the first paragraph on my file.

It would be enough to turn my life into perpetual unemployment, and it would take 3 years before I found work in the JIB electrical industry. On this very job, many safety regulations were being contravened, and the national agreement was unrecognisable. Men from Birmingham were sleeping rough on the floor of a house in Manchester bought for this very purpose, denying the men the right to ‘out of town allowance’ for hotel rooms.

The house was cold throughout winter, and unskilled labourers were being utilised to carry out electrical work for which they had no training. Wages were not paid; and the electricians sat in the cabin.

As a consequence, the Regional Industrial Organiser (RIO) for the Amicus Electrical section (the recognised trade union) visited the site – and enquired how I, Steve Acheson, had slipped through the net. I would subsequently be dismissed as shop steward, along with other T&G reps. We spent 60 weeks outside the gate until securing an Employment Tribunal victory for unfair dismissal because of our union membership.

It was another 3 years before I worked in the JIB electrical industry again. This was on the huge Manchester Royal Infirmary. This site had 3 years work, but with immediate effect, companies were applying third party pressure to have me removed. Once again a trade union full time official would play a part in my removal. I (a shop steward) and two other T&G reps were dismissed. Our tribunal confirmed we were unlawfully dismissed.

I spent 2 years outside the gates of this huge hospital, until being offered employment on the Fiddlers Ferry power station site. This offer was made at 8am on a July morning, but withdrawn only hours later. The company told the shop steward I was ‘one of the 10 worst trades unionists in the UK’. A determined and dogged steward, and pressure from the workforce eventually secured my job on this site, on August 18th, 2008 – five weeks after my initial offer of employment had been withdrawn.

I lasted 16 weeks before being unfairly selected for redundancy. My tribunal victory for unlawful refusal of employment drew the comment from the Tribunal chair that my selection for redundancy was the worlds most unfair selection, Evidence given by the convenors confirmed that a union official made an ‘otherwise’ agreement, allowing for my singular removal, even though this was contrary to the previously operating selection procedure, as well as the national agreement; it left temporary agency labour on site; it left self-employed labour on site. Both contrary to existing agreements on redundancy.

I have responded by maintaining a presence outside the site for the past 2 years and 8 months, in which my numerous banners highlight this abhorrent victimisation. I was denied my statutory right to have my grievance heard.

I can sincerely confirm that my unemployment (to my obvious detriment) has occurred as the result of officers of my union colluding in such exclusion. This is further evidenced in numerous other files, of other blacklisted workers. The most damning evidence is the deafening silence and failure to respond, by my union, Unite, in the 2 years since the blacklist was exposed.

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