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Crossrail electrician 'whistleblower' claims victimisation because of trade union activity

Frank Morris: 'After I blew the whistle and exposed what was happening with blacklisting on the Olympics I’ve found it impossible to work'

Published: 18 January, 2013
by WILLIAM McLENNAN

AN electrician claims he was kicked off the Crossrail project after being marked out as a whistleblower over an alleged illegal “blacklist”.

Frank Morris is taking the government’s £15billion railway project contractor Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) to a tribunal alleging unfair dismissal. 

The 38-year-old says he was “victimised” for trade union activity and raising safety concerns – a claim strongly denied by BFK and Crossrail bosses.

Mr Morris, who lives in Enfield, lost his job on the Crossrail project in September after his employer, construction company EIS, had its contract terminated by BFK.

He said BFK cut the contract earlier than expected, making 28 ­people redundant.

He believes his name had been on a secret “blacklist” after he raised safety concerns about a colleague working on the Olympic site.

Blacklisting is an illegal process which prevents workers deemed “troublesome” or involved in trade unions from gaining employment.

The father of four young children has not found employment since his work on Crossrail ended and has been protesting outside the Westbourne Park and Bond Street sites every day for the past four months. He said he would continue protesting until his case goes to tribunal, adding: “I’ll keep going until I’ve got justice, really. All I want to do is work like everybody else, it’s not asking for much.”

He added 4,000 elec­tricians were needed on the job yet “…they’re saying they can’t find a job anywhere for me”.

In December, the construction union Unite called for Transport for London to investigate ­possible blacklisting at Crossrail and urged TfL to ensure the project is “free from the illegal practice of blacklisting”.

The West End Extra understands that also in December Unite and Crossrail went through the conciliation service ACAS  – a body established to improve industrial relations – without the matter being settled.

Mr Morris said his troubles began when he stood up for a co-worker.

He said a co-worker at the Olympic site got dismissed and there was a  boast about “blacklisting”. He asked why the man was sacked and was told it was because his name appeared on the “blacklist”.

Mr Morris said: “Before I worked on the Olympics, I’d worked on almost every major infrastructure work in London. I worked on Canary Wharf, Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport and I built Wembley. But after I blew the whistle and exposed what was happening with blacklisting on the Olympics I’ve found it impossible to work.”

Mr Morris began working on the Westbourne Park Crossrail site in May for the construction company EIS and became a shop steward for Unite.

A Crossrail spokesman said: “Crossrail Limited is not aware of, and has seen no evidence of, blacklisting of any kind in connection with the Crossrail project.

“A contract between our western tunnels contractor BFK and EIS Electrical ended in September as the work they were carrying out to commission the first two tunnel-boring machines had been completed with tunneling now underway. 

“EIS Electrical subsequently made 28 workers redundant.”

When the West End Extra contacted BFK for a comment they said Crossrail would provide a response and serve as the “point of contact”.

Labour politicians: 'We need to know there are no shady practices'

LABOUR politicians urged Boris Johnson to launch a probe into blacklisting on the Crossrail project at City Hall on Wednesday.

The Labour Assembly Member John Biggs asked the Mayor to ensure blacklisting was not taking place on the railway project, which is partly funded by TfL. 

He said: “We are asking the Mayor to provide evidence of the steps taken to ensure that no blacklisting is or has taken place on Crossrail – a project London taxpayers and the Greater London Authority, through TfL, are heavily invested in.”

Mr Biggs said he was concerned about blacklisting on the £15billion project after discovering that an employment tribunal in 2010 had heard that Ron Barron, a former senior manager at Crossrail, was involved in blacklisting at his previous employer, the engineering company CB&I.

A Crossrail spokesman said Mr Barron had stopped working on the project in November and there was no evidence that he carried out blacklisting while working for them.

The City Hall debate heard about blacklists run by the Consulting Association and operated by the company’s chief officer, Ian Kerr. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office raided its offices in 2009 and found it was holding details on more than 3,000 construction workers. In May 2009 Mr Kerr pleaded guilty to breaching Data Protection Act and received a £5,000 fine.

Mr Kerr gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in November 2012 in which he said that Crossrail was discussed at meetings of the Consulting Association. 

He told the committee: “There was a lot of discussion at meetings about Crossrail because there was a perception that it was going to be a problematic contract.”

Mr Kerr died last month, just weeks after giving his evidence. 

A report by the ICO said that Mr Kerr’s database was used by more than 40 construction companies between 1993 and 2009, including Balfour Beatty, BAM and Kier. 

BAM and Kier subsequently teamed up with Ferrovial Agroman to form BFK and now operate the Crossrail tunneling site at Westbourne Park. Balfour Beatty are part of a construction group called BBMV that works on the Crossrail project in east London.  

The written motion to the London Assembly was put forward by Mr Biggs ahead of Wednesday’s meeting and said he was concerned that “28 workers were allegedly removed from this project after safety issues were raised”.

He told City Hall: “The second thing we are asking for is the Mayor to disassociate himself from these practices and to emphasise that every employee must be protected in raising health and safety concerns without fear of reprisals.”

Labour Assembly Member Tom Copley also voiced his concerns and called for a “thorough investigation” into the practice he said was “very widespread throughout the construction industry”.

He said: “Ron Barron is no longer engaged on the Crossrail project, but it’s quite indicative I think of the extent to which blacklisting in the construction industry is almost endemic. 

“We need to be absolutely certain that there is no blacklisting taking place on the Crossrail project. This would be bad enough if Crossrail were a private project, but this is taxpayers’ money that is being spent and it’s not just any project, it’s the largest publicly-funded construction project in western Europe, so we need to be absolutely certain that no shady practices are taking place.” 

A Crossrail spokesman said: “All contractors working on the Crossrail project must comply with the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010 which explicitly outlaw the blacklisting of construction workers.”

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