John’s Speech in the Members’ Debate on Blacklisting

Below is a transcript of John’s speech during Neil Findlay MSP’s Members’ Debate, 2nd May 2013, on Blacklisting of construction workers.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I, too, add my congratulations to Neil Findlay not only on securing the debate but on his on-going work on blacklisting and other worker-related issues. Thanks are due, too, to the trade union movement—individual members and collectively—the Hazards magazine, the blacklisting support group and countless others. As many members have mentioned, thanks are also due to the Scottish Affairs Committee for its interim report. We know that there is evidence of financing and supporting the sinister list.

I am grateful to Unite for its briefing. It refers to the “human story of poverty, family breakdown and emotional despair and—in the worst case—suicide.” It is important that we recall that we are talking about individuals. The damage has been done. Perhaps it cannot be repaired directly, but it certainly cannot be allowed to be repeated and we must see the eradication of what, as many other members have said, is an attack on human rights. Unite’s general secretary described the matter as an “on-going problem.” I am dealing with an incident of corporate abuse of smaller businesses, which in turn affects workforces, so the bullying continues. What we have seen is vindictiveness, deceit and collusion but, as yet, we have not seen any justice.

Some members have talked about attitudes. The attitude that is shown when the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister talks about slaying the “health and safety monster” and refers to equality impact assessments as “nonsense” is the very attitude that underpins a lot of this.

Drew Smith referred to the erosion of safety in the workplace and the dearth of proactivity from the Health and Safety Executive, including no unannounced or follow-up inspections, the consequence of little investigation and even less prosecution and the pernicious—that is a word that is used a lot—rights for shares issue.

Whose interests are served by that? It is certainly not those of the workforce and it is not efficient. It is political dogma and invariably the blind pursuit of profit, which cannot be allowed to go unchecked.

I hope that the minister will set out what plans the Scottish Government has to address the issue and, indeed, whether it has moved on from earlier in the year when Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, said:

“I remind members that this is a Parliament and not a court. It is not appropriate, in my view, to bandy around allegations without evidence.”—[Official Report, 31 March 2013; c 16250.]

There is a growing wealth of evidence on blacklisting and I hope that that will be picked up by the minister.

Many members have talked about the procurement bill, in which there will be opportunities to address much more than blacklisting. I do not know whether it is appropriate to commend the blacklisting of blacklisters, but there may be a place for that. Neil Findlay talked about owning up and Alex Johnstone talked about reconciliation. We certainly need to shift the burden of proof. I favour no public money going to any company that disregards workers’ health and safety or the important role of trade unions and staff associations. We can make a start on that through the procurement bill.

I support Neil Findlay’s calls for an independent public inquiry. There is a debate to be had about the status and powers of such an inquiry and about issues of compensation. However, we must ensure that the corporate cowboys are reined in. I like the challenge that has been thrown to the Parliament by the trade unions. Everyone who genuinely supports social justice and a positive future for Scotland must add their voices of support to the call for an inquiry.