UCATT banners on a TUC demonstration against cuts – the union says new tax changes could cut take-home pay by over £3,000 a year
UCATT banners on a TUC demonstration against cuts – the union says new tax changes could cut take-home pay by over £3,000 a year

THE alleged architect of the construction ‘blacklisting’ scandal, Cullum McAlpine, has declined to give evidence in the High Court case, due to start next month, to establish the extent of wrong-doing in the industry.

Unite, one of the unions whose members were blacklisted, condemned the decision by Cullum McAlpine not to take the witness box as ‘a further gross insult’ to the thousands of construction workers who have lost their jobs because of the machinations of the secretive Consulting Association and Services Group of the Economic League.

The revelations about Cullum McAlpine, a director of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, came when the companies’ evidence was filed for the High Court trial which is due to start on Monday 9 May – and is expected to last 11 weeks.

The complex multi-strand case will centre on a number of key legal issues, including defamation, breaches of the 1988 Data Protection Act, conspiracy and misuse of private information. The outcome of the trial will determine the level of compensation those ‘blacklisted’ may receive.

Unite is supporting the claims of about 290 construction workers for damages for years of lost income because they were ‘blacklisted’. The claims are against Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services and more than 30 other firms.

Unite also pledged to challenge Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd every time that the company tenders for future public procurement contracts, unless Cullum McAlpine gives evidence at the High Court.

Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: ‘Despite last October’s unprecedented admission of guilt by construction firms involved in blacklisting, those that masterminded this campaign of blacklisting are still twisting and turning to avoid appearing in court where the media and public will be present.

‘It is Unite’s belief that that Cullum McAlpine, as founder chairman, was the key architect in the operation of the Consulting Association until it was raided by the Information Commissioner in 2009. The fact that he is refusing to give evidence to help bring closure for the suffering that our members and their families have endured is shaming.

‘You judge the character of a person if they are prepared to stand up and defend their actions in open court – you don’t skulk in the legal twilight protected by a platoon of expensive City lawyers. How can a company run by a man who hides from his victims and the justice system ever hope to convince ministers that they have learnt from the sins of the past and deserve to be involved in public procurement contracts.

‘Unite says loud and clear to Cullum McAlpine: Turn up and give evidence or expect your dispute with us to go on long after this litigation has concluded. We will object at every turn to your company benefiting from public procurement contracts. It is only now after sustained legal action, with the support of Unite, that the lid is being finally lifted on a scandal which has ruined countless lives and led to hardship for many more.

‘However, the stain of blacklisting won’t be removed until there is a full public inquiry and the livelihoods of the blacklisted are restored by the firms involved giving them a permanent job. Many Unite members, who are the victims of blacklisting, have rejected the employers’ financial offers.

‘The employers make mention of headline figures in regard to their top offers, but the reality is that they continue to attempt to buy off the majority of claims with low offers. The employers need to understand that compensation is only one part of the blacklisting struggle and until the employers are prepared to issue unreserved admissions as to the practices they undertook, prepared to disclose all documentation they hold regarding the blacklist and show a willingness to positively intervene in favour of employing victims then the fight goes on.’

l Hundreds of thousands of workers, many of whom work in construction, received a financial kick in the teeth due to tax changes on expenses which came into effect last week (April 6th 2016) the start of the new financial year. The government has introduced changes to remove workers employed through an employment intermediary (an umbrella company, personal service company or employment agency) from claiming tax relief on travel, food and overnight accommodation.

Construction union UCATT estimates that workers operating via umbrella companies will on average lose £1,000 a year and in one case the union has seen a worker facing their take home pay cut by £3,369 a year. The change in the expenses rules will also severely affect workers operating via employment agencies who are paid under the terms and conditions of an industrial agreement such as the Construction Industry Joint Council (CIJC) Working Rule Agreement.

UCATT estimates these workers, who receive travel expenses will be £600-£900 a year worse off. The Treasury estimates the changes will bring in an additional £150 million a year in revenue. Brian Rye, Acting General Secretary of UCATT, said: ‘This is an absolute kick in the teeth for construction workers who are already being forced to work under the exploitative yoke of umbrella companies and employment agencies.

‘All of the additional costs will be met by the workers and the employers’ businesses will be entirely unaffected. UCATT have led the campaign for the complete abolition of the umbrella companies and the case against them is found in UCATT’s document The Umbrella Company Con-Trick.

‘Rather than outlaw umbrella companies, the Chancellor has instead closed the one tiny loophole which meant that umbrella company workers were not exposed to an effective tax rate of 45% (income tax, employer’s national insurance contributions and employee’s national insurance contributions) on all eligible earnings.

‘The government’s crackdown will mean that workers operating on the CIJC, working side by side will be taxed differently depending whether they are directly employed by a company or via an agency. Once again this shows how this Conservative Government are making workers suffer, while giving a free pass to their friends in business.’

• Sheffield Council became the latest local authority in Yorkshire to agree a minimum standards construction charter which will cover all the construction projects where is has an involvement. The Charter was signed last week by Sheffield Deputy Council Leader Leigh Bramall and construction unions UCATT, GMB and Unite.

The Charter sets out several provisions that contractors employed on Sheffield Council projects will have to follow, including:

• Directly employ workers (rather than being self-employed or paid via umbrella companies)

• Employ workers under recognised industrial agreements

• Promote the benefits of trade unions and recognise shop stewards

• Certify they are not engaged in blacklisting

• Promote and encourage apprenticeships to NVQ Level 3.

The signing of the charter in Sheffield came a month after Wakefield Council signed a similar agreement and UCATT are working to ensure that other local authorities in Yorkshire also agree to abide by similar commitments.

Rob Morris, Regional Secretary for UCATT Yorkshire, said: ‘This charter ensures that workers employed on projects underpinned by Sheffield Council will receive decent treatment.’ Morris added: ‘This charter is a first step to combating and stamping out the exploitation and shoddy practices which are inherent in the construction industry.’