Friday, 25 March 2011

Conjecture & speculation on the Blacklist

'It is easier smell a rat than it is to catch a rat': Ludwig Wittgenstein

'DID you not smell a rat, then?' asked the legal representative of N.G.Baileys, Mr Thomas, at the Manchester Employment Tribunal yesterday. It was at a pre-hearing review involving five companies - NG Bailey, NRL, Carillion, Beever Management Services Ltd (BMSL) and Balfour Kilpatrick - the applicant was the electrician, Graham Bowker, who was claiming that each of the companies had denied him employment on grounds of his trade union activities. Of these companies three are known to be subscribers to the Consulting Association, whose manager, Ian Kerr in 2009 at Knutsford Crown Court was found guilty of assembling an illegal data base and one which trade union solicitors describe as a 'blacklist'.

The purpose of the Manchester Tribunal Hearing yesterday was to allow the respondent companies the chance to get Graham Bowker's applications thrown out on grounds that they had been submitted too late. The legal representative for NG Bailey was suggesting that Mr Bowker could have applied as soon as he was made aware by the evidence of the management whistleblower, Alan Wainwright, in the case of Steven Acheson v Logic in 2007. Mr Wainwright gave evidence that he had operated a 'blacklist' and in his summary of that case the Tribunal Chairman in that case had made a finding of fact that there was a blacklist in operation in the British construction industry. The employers' legal representatives were eager to ask why Mr Bowker had not started his application against them earlier.

But while it was clear at the Tribunal Hearing that Mr Bowker had been 'smelling a rat' regarding his chances of getting work in the British building trade since the beginning of the millennium he still had the problem presented by the philosopher Wittgenstein that it was much less easier to 'catch a rat'. Time and again he told the employer's legal representatives and the Employment Tribunal that the clues to his blacklisting (and that of many others) were all emerging with each successive case from the DAFF case in 2004 via the Logic case in 2007 but the specific evidence was missing. [For example after the Logic case in 2007, the then Secretary of State for Business & Enterprise, Pat McFadden had written a letter to the local MP of another 'blacklisted' electrician, Tony Jones, saying that his Department was aware of Mr Wainwright's claims and had interviewed him, but Mr Wainwright could not explain the criteria used by companies to place individual workers onto the list that he was operating and enforcing.]

Thus, it could be argued, and is still being argued by the bosses, that what Mr Wainwright had at his disposal was not a 'blacklist' but merely some kind of benign filtering process. Nick Toms representing Graham Bowker, and Unite the Union, asked: 'Mr Bowker is it true that Carillion and some of the other companies still deny that it was a blacklist?' To which Mr Bowker was compelled to answer 'Yes'. The subscribing companies to the Consulting Association innocently claim it was just about 'cross referencing' employees' names.

But yesterday, there were a few shocks in store. Graham Bowker in justifying his delay in making the application to the Tribunal, even in April 2009 after he the Information Commissioner's Office had supplied him with the data proving he was on the Consulting Association's files (Blacklist), made reference to the work he had to do at the time in preparing for the action against the companies concerned in civil court. He told the Tribunal that at that time 'Six of us had to go down to London at our own expense to see the civil rights lawyers'. The members of the Manchester union branch have throughout believed that the Civil Courts would offer a better remedy that the Employment Tribunals. Mr Bowker also attacked his own Unite union leaders when he went on to claim that he had, in 2009, been at a meeting in Liverpool that included the national officer Tommy Hardacre, and other local and regional officers: Mike Gasgill, Steve Benson and Colin Carr; yet from these officials he had received little or no guidance. He went on to claim that after the merger of Amicus and the Transport & General Workers' Union to form Unite the Union and that there had been no direct line of communication to the union officials or legal representatives over this matter. Mr Bowker claimed on oath that he considered that the problem was 'because there was a conflict of interest between the union officers and the blacklist' and he said: 'They were (in my opinion) trying to time us out'. This 'conflict of interest' relates to the fact that several officials of the union are believed to have participated in the blacklisting, and the names of nine of these are on the document files of the Consulting Association.

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