Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘Blacklisting

Information Commission names and shames…

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The Information Commission has published the names of 14 companies against which it will be taking further action in respect of their misuse of personal data obtained on trade union activists from Ian Kerr, on behalf of The Consulting Association (see here for the direct press release; while it also currently available from the front page of the Commission’s website).

The 14 names include that of NG Bailey – a construction company involved in the telecoms industry and for which Connect members may have worked.

The action being taken is via Enforcement Notices. You can read the Enforcement Notice in relation to NG Bailey here; I suspect they all ready pretty much the same although I note that the notice in respect of NG Bailey doesn’t include a reference to the disclosure of information to a third party without informing the individual affected such as, for example, the one in relation to Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering does (though this may well reflect the particular company structure of Balfour Beatty and the widespread use of The Consulting Association’s services by other companies within the Balfour Beatty group).

The Notice commits the companies to ‘refrain from using, disclosing or otherwise processing’ personal data obtained from Ian Kerr; and, secondly, to ensure that, if they obtain information from third parties in the future, they are completely open with job applicants about the process. Failure to abide by the Enforcement Notice would open up the company to prosecution. David Smith, Deputy Commissioner, said that:

We have used the maximum powers available to us and this enforcement action sends a strong signal that organisations must take the Data Protection Act seriously.

The effectiveness of such Notices clearly lies in the context of the ill publicity they gain for those involved, and the perception that other people are carefully watching the future activity of those concerned; the ‘punishment’ they convey is scarcely worthy of the name. But, the Information Commission can’t do much else within the powers open to it. This particular issue – of what should happen to companies using the services of blacklisting organisations – will clearly need to be picked up in the draft regulations now being consulted on by BIS and to which Connect and Prospect will be responding on a joint basis.

According to The Guardian, which has also obtained further information about how The Consulting Association operated, NG Bailey said it would be ‘”strengthening” its procedures to comply with data protection laws’ – though it’s not exactly trumpeting that on its website.

In the context of the need for watchfulness over the issue, Connect has also written direct to BT, which is linking with NG Bailey in a new contract for the Ministry of Defence, requesting that it ‘Carefully re-consider using the services of a company that has been named as having used the services of the Consulting Association’ and seeking assurances that it ‘Support[s] efforts to stamp out illegal employment practice, that [it] will co-operate fully in sharing all relevant information with the ICO and that BT remains committed to the highest standards of policy and practice in managing its external relationships’.

Working together, we can stamp out the practice.

Written by Calvin

05/08/2009 at 2:30 pm

BT wins MoD contract

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BT has won a five-year contract worth £99m to manage voice and data networks for the Ministry of Defence’s 197 military bases. The work is intended to help pave the way for the MoD’s long-term communications development programme by bringing a higher level of standardisation and predictability to the Ministry’s network.

Good news for a troubled company no doubt – and no doubt a sound initiative for a troubled MoD, too. But somewhat less welcome news for trade unionists is that, according to totaltele.com (limited viewing time; registration required), BT will be supported during the implementation of the project by Bailey Teswaine, the network infrastructure division of NG Bailey. NG Bailey was revealed by the Information Commissioner to be a client of trade union blacklister The Consulting Association (about which I blogged last week).

It’s not clear whether NG Bailey is one of the 17 firms with which the Information Commissioner is taking further action. Regardless, that it is a user of The Consulting Association at all brings a troubling aspect to news such as this – and not least to a telecoms trade union.

Written by Calvin

21/07/2009 at 1:37 pm

Kerr fine prelude to wider action

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The £5,000 fine levied on Ian Kerr yesterday (plus £1,187 in respect of the costs of the Information Commissioner) for running the Consulting Association’s blacklist of trade unionists was indeed a joke – rightly condemned by the TUC as ‘totally inadequate’.

The Consulting Association took some £479,000 in fees between 2004 and 2009 and Kerr, who the ICO believes ran the blacklist for fifteen years, was one of four employees and on a salary of £48,000 at the time of the ICO raid at the beginning of March this year. Furthermore, the Macclesfield magistrates who first heard Kerr’s guilty plea referred Kerr to a crown court for sentencing since they believed the maximum fine they could impose was ‘woefully inadequate’, whereas there are no limits on the fine a crown court can impose. That maximum? £5,000.

That’s a disgrace.

The fine should have been punitive pour encourager les autres and to impose the same fine that the magistrates had already rejected as insufficient is a slap in the face not only for the 3,213 trade unionists directly affected by the activities of the Consulting Association but for trade unionists everywhere: it belittles us and sets an extremely low price for the discrimination that we potentially suffer for pursuing activities which support our society’s democratic values. Penalties for this sort of activity in the future need to be significant and judges need to recognise that.

The question of penalties, I’m sure, will be put right in consequence of BIS’s blacklisting consultation, about which I blogged a few days ago.

But the Information Commission’s strongly-worded Press Release goes on to state that the Commissioner is ‘minded’ to:

Use the strongest powers available to him and serve Enforcement Notices on 17 construction firms that paid Mr Kerr for details on construction workers.

The Press Release goes on to state that the Commissioner has written to the 17 firms with ‘formal enforcement action’ to follow ‘shortly’. David Smith, Deputy Commissioner, went on to say:

Ian Kerr colluded with construction firms for many years flouting the Data Protection Act and ignoring people’s privacy rights. Trading people’s personal details in this way is unlawful and we are determined to stamp out this type of activity.

This is the right action and is to be applauded – provided, of course, that it is pursued as single mindedly as the intent in the words above seems to describe. Tackling those that trade in such information is one way of seeking to prevent its use in the future, with a nod to the sequence of events that may see other such covert organisations rising in the future just as the Consulting Association succeeded the Economic League (for which Kerr also worked); tackling the companies that use it is, arguably, even more important since it may help more directly to prevent the  succession of such activity in the future.

The 17 firms which are the subject of this further enforcement activity by the ICO – as well as the 23 or so others who also used the Consulting Association – need to be publicly named and shamed (you can find the ICO’s list directly here), and any action which the ICO can direct here needs to be pitched at a level with a view towards ensuring that this sort of activity is indeed stamped out. The ICO also runs a ‘Personal Information Promise’ scheme under which organisations can demonstrate their commitment to protecting people’s personal information: this needs greater currency and, indeed, greater clout.

Written by Calvin

17/07/2009 at 12:47 pm

BIS to consult on blacklisting of trade unionists

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BIS, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills headed by Lord Mandelson, has announced a short consultation on regulations that, it says, will outlaw the practice of employer blacklisting of trade unionists.

The practice was the subject of a debate at this year’s Connect Biennial Conference, which passed a motion calling on the Executive Council to ‘Press for a ban on all UK employment blacklists and press for severe penalties for UK employers using any foreign blacklisting service.’

The consultation starts from the principle that ‘The Government believes that trade unions, and those who belong to them and participate in their activities, play a legitimate role in any democratic society. It believes that the blacklisting of trade unionists should have no place in the conduct of employment relations in this country’. The Regulations being consulted on now are an amended version of a set that had previously been consulted on in 2003 but then held in abeyance. The reason for moving to implementation now is specifically the activities of The Consulting Association, earlier this year the target of an inquiry by the Information Commissioner.

The Regulations will:

– define what amounts to a blacklist of trade unionists and prohibit their compilation, dissemination and use

– make it unlawful for organisations to refuse employment, to dismiss an employee or otherwise cause detriment to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist

– make it unlawful for an employment agency to refuse a service to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist

– provide for the employment tribunal to hear complaints about alleged breaches and award remedies based on existing trade union law

– provide (as an alternative) for the courts to hear complaints from any persons that they have suffered loss or potential loss because of a prohibited blacklisting activity.

The consultation, which can be accessed here, runs until 18 August – a short consultation expressly because BIS is convinced of the need to act quickly. BIS has specifically sent the consultation to all UK trade unions with a view to introducing regulations ‘at the earliest opportunity’.

Brendan Barber, for the TUC, has welcomed the consultation, commenting: ‘It is vital that the introduction of new regulations is treated as a priority, to prevent the profoundly undemocratic practice of discrimination against those who choose to join unions.’

Of course, and subject to a thorough examination of the detail, Connected Research votes aye.

Written by Calvin

08/07/2009 at 1:18 pm