|COMPANY SOLD WORKERS' SECRET DATA|
The information watchdog has shut down a company which it says sold workers' confidential data, including union activities, to building firms.
A raid on The Consulting Association in Droitwich, Worcs, revealed a serious breach of the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner's Office said.
The ICO said a secret system was run for over 15 years enabling employers to unlawfully vet job applicants.
Action is being considered against more than 40 firms who used the service.
Past and present customers included Taylor Woodrow, Laing O'Rourke and Balfour Beatty, the ICO added.
The Consulting Association's owner would also be prosecuted, it said.
"He should have been notified, registered with our office and he wasn't and that's a criminal offence and that's a clear prosecution," said deputy information commissioner David Smith.
"The construction companies that were his customers, we have to investigate and find out just what their involvement is.
"But what we're looking to do there is issue enforcement proceedings against those that were involved and that'll put them essentially on notice that if they get involved in this illegal trade again, then they will face prosecution."
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said he was "sorry the practices have taken place" and welcomed the intervention of the information commissioner.
"He will need to look into this further to see whether these practices are more widespread and take the appropriate action, as he's already done in this case," the minister added.
Not only was the database held without the workers' consent, but the existence of it was repeatedly denied.
Following the raid on 23 February, investigators discovered that The Consulting Association's database contained the details of some 3,213 workers, the ICO said.
Data included information concerning personal relationships, trade union activity and employment history, it added.
Comments included "lazy and a trouble stirrer", "Ex shop steward. Definite problems. No Go" and "Communist Party".
Employers paid £3,000 as an annual fee, and £2.20 for individual details, the ICO said.
Invoices to construction firms for up to £7,500 were also seized during the raid.
The ICO said it had served an Enforcement Notice ordering The Consulting Association's owner to stop using the system, and expected the company to cease trading by the end of the week.
It added that the owner had failed to notify the ICO as a data controller.
Mr Smith said: "Trading people's personal details in this way is unlawful and we are determined to stamp out this type of activity."
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of building workers union Ucatt, said: "Take one of the issues that we have in the construction industry: we have just under two people killed every week through bad health and safety practices and if a whistleblower then raises these issues, then obviously he has found his name on this list.
"He has never had the chance to challenge it.
"He has never been able to turn around and say, 'You are classing me as lazy. How can that be?
Source - BBC News, 07:54 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009
|List of database subscribers|
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has released a list of companies that used The Consulting Association's database.
Brackets indicate where companies have undergone a change of name or subsidiaries have been absorbed by parent companies. "Ex-members" may no longer exist or no longer use The Consulting Association's service.
Amec Building Ltd
Amec Construction Ltd
Amec Facilities Ltd
Amec Ind Div
Amec Process & Energy Ltd
Amey Construction - ex-member
B Sunley & Sons - ex-member
Ballast (Wiltshire) plc - ex-member
Bam Construction (HBC Construction)
Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd)
C B & I
Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd
Costain UK Ltd
Crown House Technologies
Diamond M & E Services
Dudley Bower & Co Ltd - ex-member
Emcor (Drake & Scull) - labelled "Ex Ref"
G Wimpey Ltd - ex-member
John Mowlem Ltd - ex-member
Laing O'Rourk (Laing Ltd)
Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd - ex-member
Miller Construction Limited - ex-member
Morrison Construction Group - ex-member
N G Bailey
Shepherd Engineering Services
Sias Building Services
Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd
Skanska (Kaverna/Trafalgar House plc)
SPIE (Matthew Hall) - ex-member
Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd - ex-member
Turriff Construction Ltd - ex-member
Tysons Contractors - ex-member
Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd - ex-member
Whessoe Oil & Gas
Willmott Dixon - ex-member
Vinci plc (Norwest Holst Group)
|Call over 'blacklist data' row|
2 hours ago
The Government has been urged to take immediate action to outlaw the blacklisting of workers after new evidence that the practice was "rampant".
Unions and MPs expressed alarm after an investigation by the Information Commissioner revealed that major construction firms broke data protection laws by paying for information on their employees.
Deputy information commissioner David Smith said information on around 3,000 workers was held by the Consulting Association in paper files and a card index database.
Around 40 construction companies would send the association lists of people they were considering hiring to work on building sites and would then receive details from their files over the phone, he said.
Notes about individual workers included descriptions such as "ex-shop steward, definite problems", "Irish ex-Army, bad egg", while others related to workers who had raised concerns over health and safety issues on sites, such as asbestos removal.
Mr Smith said the companies - including household names and major players in the industry - must have known that what they were doing was wrong.
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of the building workers' union Ucatt, said: "Ucatt members know from bitter experience of being refused work that blacklisting exists in construction.
"However, the extent of the practice and the fact that most of the major companies in construction are involved in the practice is truly shocking.
"It is outrageous that construction workers have been barred from jobs simply for being trade unionists."
Ucatt said it believed Consulting Association was run by an individual formerly employed by the Economic League, the company involved in most of the blacklisting in the 1970s and 1980s.
|'I hope it will open the doors for me to get back to work'|
* David Batty
* The Guardian, Friday 6 March 2009
Steve Acheson, who feared he had been on a blacklist, said he was "absolutely thrilled" by the findings of the information commissioner's investigation.
The electrician, 55, from Denton, south Manchester, said: "I've been angry for so long. It affects your character and demeanour - it's the fact it's so blatantly unjust. I'm hoping that because of this brilliant success I'll be able to get my family life back and it will open the doors for me and others to get back to work."
Acheson said the government should ban companies that use the blacklists from taking public sector contracts.
He suspects that being blacklisted for his trade union membership is the reason why he has only had 36 weeks' employment in the last nine years. He believes he was blacklisted after winning three separate employment tribunals and felt he had been punished for those victories.
"Up to 2000 I'd be getting a couple of job offers a week from agencies. I was a supervisor on the Channel tunnel, I worked all over the Middle East. I should be securing £40,000 a year but I've not had an employment agency phone me in nine years." Graham Bowker, from Oldham, has only worked for five months since winning an employment tribunal case along with Acheson in 2006.
The electrician, who has been in the industry since 1971, believes he deserves compensation. He said: "I've been at snapping point a few times. You've got a job, then you haven't got a job. You get to the stage where you think, should I bother? As soon as I've phoned and given my national insurance details, they don't call back. I'm going to ask my MP, Michael Meacher, to see if I can get my NI number changed."
Colin Trousdale, 50, from Bacup, Lancashire, has found work hard to come by since he spoke up for colleagues who were sacked two years ago.
Trousdale, who has 35 years' experience as an electrician and is an active trade union member, believes he is on a blacklist. He said the information commissioner's action against Ian Kerr made him very happy.
The pressure of not finding work contributed to the breakup of his marriage and forced him to move out of Manchester to find work, he said. "I had to move away because employers would look at the postcode and think I was a troublemaker," he said.
|'Do not touch' - the covert database that kept union activists out of work|
• Ian Kerr built blacklist from Droitwich base
• Business ordered to close after files seized in raid
* Rob Evans and Phil Chamberlain
* The Guardian, Friday 6 March 2009
For years, 66-year-old Ian Kerr has run his business quietly in a first-floor office in the Worcestershire town of Droitwich. There was no nameplate for his premises, which was protected by a green door, and workers in the neighbouring shops either failed to notice him or thought he was a little mysterious.
"Oh yes, Ian," said one. "He has been there for years. We never really knew what he does - probably works for MI5 or something."
Kerr did not work for the security services, but the world he operated in was certainly a private one, and it can be exposed today because of an investigation by the office of the information commissioner, Richard Thomas.
Thomas, whose watchdog is entrusted with maintaining the public's privacy, believes Kerr has spent 15 years compiling and maintaining a huge database on 3,200 workers from around the country.
He alleges that Kerr, trading under the anodyne name of The Consulting Association, sold information from this database to construction companies who wanted to vet potential staff.
The end for Kerr's business came on Monday last week when Thomas sent his officials past the green door to raid the office. It caught Kerr unawares.
Thomas's officials took away the entire contents of the database, as well as invoices from companies in the construction industry which were paying Kerr.
The commissioner believes that these show the companies paid Kerr a flat fee of £3,000 a year and then a fixed fee for each name they wanted checked. He said invoices for up to £7,500 were discovered in the office.
Details of workers' trade union activities and past employment conduct were recorded on cards.
One individual was said to be a "poor timekeeper, will cause trouble, strong TU [trade union]". Another card referred to a member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians as "Ucatt ... very bad news".
A member of the Transport and General Workers Union was described as "a sleeper and should be watched". One entry on a worker simply said: "Do not touch !"
Sprinkled throughout the database were warnings of the confidentiality of the database; companies were told "do not divulge any of the above".
Kerr told the Guardian that he never gave advice or judgments to companies about whether to give a job to an individual as it was up to the firms to make the final decision.
He said prudent managers had a right to check who was being taken on and denied that it amounted to blacklisting. "There was nothing sinister about it. It was bona fide," he said.
It appears that Kerr has spent many years compiling databases on workers. He did not wish to comment on a report in the Guardian 15 years ago which said he had been working for the Economic League, a controversial vetting agency which accumulated files on thousands of people it considered subversive between 1919 and 1993.
The league disbanded after it was alleged that many of its files were inaccurate and so workers were unjustly being denied work.
Kerr's snooping career has been brought to an abrupt end by the information commissioner, who ordered him to stop. Kerr has agreed to wind up his business.
Yesterday David Smith, the deputy information commissioner, said: "This is a serious breach of the Data Protection Act.
"Not only was personal information held on individuals without their knowledge or consent, but the very existence of the database was repeatedly denied [by the industry].
"The covert system enabled Mr Kerr to unlawfully trade personal information for many years, helping the construction industry to vet prospective employees. Kerr held information on thousands of construction workers and profited by checking names against his database."
After closing down Kerr's business, the information commissioner is to prosecute him for breaking the Data Protection Act.
He has named more than 40 companies which he alleges bought "sensitive" personal data from Kerr and is considering further legal action to "stamp out this type of activity".
Many building firms did not wish to comment yesterday, but others did offer a reaction.
NG Bailey said: "We are taking these claims very seriously and an immediate and thorough investigation into the matter has been launched."
Laing O'Rourke said that, in recent years, it had bought up companies which had been paying Kerr. A spokesman said: "The relationship has now ceased. Laing O'Rourke has a very clear policy of solely hiring staff on merit and capabilities, irrespective of their background."
Morgan Est said it had also "inherited" Kerr's services. "This subscription has been terminated," it said.
Skanska said it had made payments to Kerr in the past, adding these services had not been used for blacklisting "to the best of our knowledge".
BAM Construct UK said it had been a "member of the Consulting Association", but "has never purchased or used 'blacklisting' data. We do not have a blacklist and we have never had a blacklist."
|Database blacklist saw thousands denied jobs|
By Mike Hornby, Press Association
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
Thousands of workers in the construction industry were denied employment because of a secret "blacklist", a court heard today.
Ian Kerr built up a database of 3,213 people which included highly sensitive and personal information as well as trade union links and employment history, Cheshire magistrates were told.
He then offered the information to construction firms to vet potential employees.
Kerr's organisation, the Consulting Association, in Droitwich, West Midlands, was raided by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) last March and he was charged with a breach of the Data Protection Act.
Kerr, 66, of Avoncroft Road, Stoke Heath, Worcestershire, did not attend Macclesfield Magistrates' Court today but entered a guilty plea through his solicitor.
Amina Khan, prosecuting for the ICO, told the court Kerr charged firms an annual fee of £3,000 to subscribe to the service and £2.20 to access the details of named individuals.
She said: "He collated and provided information to construction companies in relation to individuals that were working for them or seeking employment."
The ICO says it believes Kerr ran the blacklist for up to 15 years.
It has named around 40 companies which were subscribers to the database, including Amec Construction, Balfour Beatty and Morgan Est.
James Strong, defending, said Kerr was just a salaried employee of the organisation, which he described as a trade association.
Since the ICO raid the Consulting Association was ordered to cease operations and Kerr has lost his £48,000-a-year job, Mr Strong said.
Adrian Long, chairman of the magistrates, said it was unclear who profited from the Consulting Association's activities and adjourned the case for the ICO to undertake further investigations.
He said: "We need to know the nature of this organisation and exactly what sums of money were involved.
"Was (Kerr) simply an employee and others were financing the organisation and taking the money?"
Mr Long ordered the ICO to establish the "structure, ownership and finances" of the Consulting Association.
Outside court, electrician Steve Acheson, 55, from Denton, Manchester, said he had been denied work for four out of the last six years because of Kerr's blacklist.
He said: "I was unfairly dismissed in 2000 and later won an industrial tribunal against that company.
"Because of that information being on Kerr's blacklist, few companies would employ me.
"To be out of work for such a long time, it affected my health and my family.
"My life was devastated. I couldn't understand why nobody would employ me.
"There was no recession then. I am a highly qualified and experienced electrician and I work hard.
"But nobody would take me on because of this blacklist.
"It makes me very angry that for many years Kerr was earning a living denying others the right to do the same."
Mick Gorrell, Assistant Information Commissioner, said he was pleased with Kerr's guilty plea and pledged enforcement action against the companies who subscribed to the blacklist.
He said: "This was a flagrant abuse of people's rights.
"It was a covert database which meant that those who featured in it were unaware of its existence and unable to view or challenge the content, its accuracy or fairness.
"Many people will have been left without a job and with no idea why.
"We will be looking at the companies which subscribed to the database and consider sending enforcement notices."