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Big construction firms oppose UK EU exit but supported worker ‘blacklist’ for decades

Two-thirds of the construction sector is backing continued EU membership citing cheap unregulated labour as one of the main reasons for staying.

Across the UK, nearly 12% of the 2.1 million construction workers come from overseas, official figures reveal, mainly from the EU.

Big construction firms are worried that they may have to pay higher wages for the remaining workers, as cheap labour from overseas would be restricted, following any UK exit from the EU. And the chairman of the Remain campaign, Lord Rose, in one of his rare public appearances, has admitted wages will rise for all workers if the UK votes to leave the EU following the referendum next month.

However, in another twist to the story, leading construction firms have finally apologised to hundreds of construction workers for putting them on an illegal ‘blacklist’ and denying them work.

And, following lengthy litigation, the total value of compensation in the case is around £75 million for the 771 claimants with legal costs on both sides expected to be more than £25 million.

‘Blacklisting’ came to public attention in 2009 when the Information Commissioner’s Office seized a database compiled by the Consulting Association, a secretive organisation funded by big business to monitor construction and other workers. The seized database included the names and details of 3,213 construction workers and was used by 44 companies to vet new employees and keep trade union and health and safety activists away from construction sites. A statement on behalf of Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanske UK and Vinci PLC, announcing the settlement, said that they had acknowledged the ‘blacklisting’ system was unlawful last year, before the final judgement was announced earlier this week.

The obvious conclusion is that big business favours cheap unregulated labour, mainly from the EU, which helps to boost their profits, hence their enthusiasm for both the free movement of labour within the EU and the ‘blacklisting’ system which allowed the exploitation of the existing labour force by unscrupulous employers, such as those in the construction industry.