ICO blog: Update on how we’re helping blacklisted workers

The Labour Party called for a debate this week on whether a Government inquiry is needed into blacklisting in the construction industry. The motion the party has tabled highlights that some workers are still not aware their name appeared on the blacklist. It’s a concern we share, and our focus since 2009 has been on making it as simple as possible for workers to find out if they were listed.

We quickly established a ‘fast-track’ system for people to find out if they’re included on the blacklist. So far we’ve taken calls from 2,641 people, of which we found 218 who were listed.

You can find out more information on how you can make a request for your data if you believe you may have featured on the list.

On top of that, we’ve also been working with construction trade unions to try to proactively reach more individuals whose information is included within the Consulting Association files. We have provided the names, dates of birth, locations and trades of all those individuals where information is held to the GMB, UCATT, UNITE and the RMT, which they are cross-referencing with their membership lists. GMB have positively identified more than 50 members where information is held and we are in the process of working with the union to provide that information to the individuals concerned. I expect this work with the trade unions will continue across the coming weeks.

When I wrote last, we were also looking at how we could overcome the challenges of writing to people on the blacklist. To recap, this is impossible in many cases, as a lot of the entries in the database are incomplete, inaccurate or extremely dated. What’s more, as the regulator of the Data Protection Act, we know all too well the problems of letters being sent to the wrong address. That means we need to be sure that any correspondence hinting at inclusion on the blacklist goes to an address that we can be reasonably confident is up-to-date and accurate.

The difficulty is that the construction blacklist is very dated. When we seized the database in 2009, many of the files were already out-of-date, with some of them more than twenty years old.

We’re close to finalising arrangements with a commercial service that can assist us with confirming some of the addresses are up-to-date, and we hope that this will be done shortly. We can then write to 200 names for an initial pilot exercise.

What will help increase the number of people contacting us is media coverage. We see spikes in people calling us when newspapers print stories about the list, and that means more people are learning they’re on the list every week.

With that in mind, we welcome this week’s proposed debate, though we would question the Labour Party’s suggestions that the ICO should have seized ‘other documents’. As we explained to the Scottish Affairs Committee, we seized everything necessary to shut the blacklist down and prosecute those involved as firmly as we were able to. Indeed, Ian Kerr himself supported that, explaining to the Committee that the only documents not seized were admin files and public domain information.

The construction blacklist remains a black spot on the history of employment in this country. While the work to close it down is long completed, our work to help those whose lives were affected by the blacklist continues.

David SmithAs well as providing Data Protection leadership across the ICO, David Smith has direct responsibility for oversight of its Strategic Liaison Division which develops and manages the ICO’s relations with its key stakeholders.
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