UK: The Employment Relations Act

By Charles Barrow*

The blacklisting of trade union members and activists during the recruitment process has an ignoble history in the UK. This practice was particularly widespread in the construction and financial industries during the 1980s and 1990s. Organisations like the Economic League (now defunct) established a database of union and political activists that could be accessed by employers in order to check the trade union affiliations and political opinions of job applicants. In organisations where this vetting process took place, union members and activists were often denied employment or suffered discrimination at the workplace. The practice of blacklisting in the UK was the subject of a complaint by the Trade Union Congress to the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1991 and was subsequently condemned by the supervisory institutions of the ILO as acts of anti-union discrimination in violation of Article 1 of ILO Convention No 98 on the right to organise in trade unions.

The Freedom of Association Committee in a number of reports asserted that the blacklisting of trade union officials or members constituted a serious threat to the free exercise of trade union rights guaranteed by the ILO conventions and that it is incumbent on governments to take stringent measures to combat such practices (see the 283rd Report, Case No 1618, paragraphs 422–4; 287th Report, Case No 1618, paragraphs 224–67; and 297th Report Case No 1618, paragraph 22).

Despite the condemnation of blacklisting activities by the ILO, little effort was made to counter these activities by consecutive Conservative governments from 1979. The Conservatives’ view was that, in general terms, employers were entitled to obtain information in confidence from whatever source they considered appropriate about prospective employees (…)

*Industrial Law Journal Oxford

(Full text of this article)

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