The unions most affected have run an excellent campaign against blacklisting and they have been helped by the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee's investigation. As the committee's interim report states:
"we wish to make it absolutely clear that we believe, on the evidence that we have seen so far, that the process of blacklisting by a secret and unaccountable process was and is morally indefensible and that those firms and individuals involved in operating the system should have known this."
We know a lot about blacklisting in the construction industry because the information came to light as a result of an investigation by the Information Commissioner. The Scottish Affairs Committee report describes the actions of companies in detail. What we do not know is if this type of illegal activity is being undertaken today and in other industries involving UNISON members.
The striking point about blacklisting is that it involves firms that are household names such as Balfour Beatty, Skanska and McAlpine. They are also firms that make £millions every year at the taxpayers expense, through public contracts. That's why the campaign has focused on tackling blacklisting through public procurement.
Today, the Scottish Government has released new rules on procurement that we hope will address this issue. I was involved with other colleagues in drafting them and the Scottish Government deserves credit for taking serious action.
The key points are as follows:
- any company which engages in or has engaged in the blacklisting of employees or potential employees should be considered to have committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of its business and should be excluded from bidding for a public contract unless it can demonstrate that it has taken appropriate remedial steps;
- we have included three new questions in the standard Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (sPQQ) which requires suppliers to disclose if they have breached relevant legislation;
- we have also included a new contract clause in our standard terms and conditions which provides for termination of the contract if a supplier is found to have breached relevant legislation during the course of that contract; and
- this guidance applies to all public sector contracts regardless of value, although for lower value contracts pre-qualification procedures are unlikely to apply.
The definition of blacklisting is wider than just the Blacklisting Regulations. It includes any discrimination against union members in recruitment, a scope that is more likely to encompass actions taken against UNISON members.
The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill, currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament will be an opportunity to give these rules statutory force. However, the important point is that it sends out a very clear message to companies that if they get involved in blacklisting or other discrimination against union members, they will be excluded from government contracts.
Another encouraging point is that parliamentarians at Westminster and Holyrood both contributed to this outcome. Now that is progress!