Blacklists to be blacklisted?

15 05 2009

I’ve written before about the National Staff Dismissal Register (NSDR) in the Retail Sector and the blacklist published by The Consulting Association (TCA) in the construction industry.  The former is a joint venture between Action Against Business Crime (a consortium formed between leading retailers and the Home Office), the latter a database compiled by a private company that then sold details to about 40 leading construction companies.  News comes this week that the government is planning to introduce regulations to proscribe blacklists used by companies to identify Trade Union members and thus not employ them.  The TCA blacklist appears to have identified trade union members as trouble – e.g “ex shop steward definite problems” and similar.  The government thinks, rightly, that potential employees should not be discriminated against because of their Trade Union membership.

Back in January the House of Lords ruled that care workers accused (note accused, not convicted) of harming children or vulnerable adults and placed as a result on a provisional blacklist could sue for infringement of their rights under the Human Rights Act.  It was estimated by the Royal College of Nursing that there were 5,500 names on the list.  The particular harm with that blacklist was that the people on it were undergoing investigation and could not work in the months it took for the investigatory and appeals process to be completed. Compensation claims will undoubtedly result.

All seems to have gone very quiet on the NSDR, which was a system retailers put in place to notify other members of staff dismissed for theft, fraud, forgery and criminal damage.  Again, no formal criminal investigation or conviction is required, leaving open the possibility that a malicious employer could prevent an employee getting back into work just by placing an entry in the register.   Safeguards are said to exist and all members have to agree to a strict code of practice, but I am struggling to see any fundamental difference between the NSDR and the TCA type blacklist – other than in the latter case the government might be trying to appease its friends in the Trade Union movement.  On the other hand the government is prepared to promote a scheme in the retail sector which surely infringes Data Protection legislation.  Is this yet another example of the government’s rather oppressive attitude towards civil liberties?





A rant about Data Protection

13 03 2009

The recent uproar over the revelation that a company called The Consulting Association (TCA) maintained a blacklist of “problem” employees which it then passed on to construction companies, reminded me of the National Staff Dismissal Register set up in the retail industry last year and which I wrote about in these pages last October.  In that case Action Against Business Crime (AABC), a consortium formed between the Home Office (!!!)  and the British Retail Consortium, set up a scheme to share information between potential employers of details of employees dismissed for offences of dishonesty, but not convicted in the criminal courts of wrongdoing.  In other words if an employer dismissed an employee for theft or fraud they would then place that person’s details on the NSDR and thus make it much harder for them to get alternative work, at least within the retail sector.  At the time it was claimed that this didn’t breach the Data Protection Act (DPA), which claim I still find rather surprising.

What is so very different about TCA’s activities?   The Information Commissioner says that they have committed a serious breach of the DPA and could be prosecuted for failing to register itself as a data holder under the DPA.  The BBC reports that information passed on by TCA to its subscribers was highly prejudicial and personal, such as “Irish ex-Army, bad egg” and “ex-shop-steward, definite problems” and included people who had raised health and safety issues on construction sites and union membership.  These are all issues which are covered by legislation designed to protect workers.  For instance, if a worker is dismissed for belonging to a Union it will be an automatically unfair dismissal, as it will if someone is dismissed for raising health and safety issues.  Anti-discrimination laws prevent a person being discriminated against on grounds of nationality – and that covers recruitment of staff as well as not subjecting them to detriment when actually in employment.  What the TCA is alleged to have done is more extreme than the NSDR scheme, but the principal is the same – personal information is being disseminated about workers who have no knowledge of the disclosure or right of redress and without any safeguards in place on the accuracy of the information. These types of scheme need to be banned: they are a far more insidious threat to our personal liberty than the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that watch our movements wherever we go. 

“Usefully Employed” also posted an interesting piece on this very issue earlier this week – see the link to his blog on my blogroll.

This article will appear in the “Docklands” and “Peninsula” newspapers week commencing 16th March. 





The National Staff Dismissal Register

13 03 2009

A rather alarming new initiative was reported last week: the creation of the National Staff Dismissal Register, by an organisation called Action Against Business Crime (AABC), a consortium formed between the Home office and the British Retail Consortium.  It is a database for employers to share details on those staff dismissed (but not necessarily convicted in the criminal courts) for offences of dishonesty; e.g. theft, forgery, damage to company property and so on. According to the AABC’s own press release the register seeks to create a central register to cover those employees not convicted or cautioned for criminal offences. It appears that it is aimed at the retail industry at the moment, although it will almost certainly spread if successful.  It will go live this month.  Apparently it is not in contravention of the Data Protection Act.

 

This strikes me as being a very dangerous development.  What safeguards are there for employees placed upon it?    It means that unscrupulous employers, or those with a grudge against a former employee could put an employee’s name on the register and effectively stop them getting work in the future.  What about the old adage of being innocent until proved guilty?  This scheme is aimed at those people who haven’t been cautioned or prosecuted and thus haven’t had the opportunity to defend themselves.  It must also raise issues under the Human Rights Act.  I don’t condone workplace crime by any means, but this intrusive scheme can’t be the right way to address the issue.

 

This post first appeared in the “Docklands” and “Peninsula” newspapers last October.