Blacklisting Regulation Confirmed

New regulations that make it unlawful blacklist workers from employment because of their union membership or activities have been formally confirmed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry received Assembly approval for The Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations (Northern Ireland) which came into operation on 6 April 2014. As required by legislation, the Regulations needed to be formally approved by the Assembly within six months of their coming into operation.

Dr Farry said: "Employers recognise the important role of employees and workers in helping businesses to grow. It is appropriate that employers vet prospective employees, provided such vetting is proportionate and complies with employment law and data protection principles.

"The Regulations have been specifically designed to target only activity that involves trade union membership and activities and which is intended to enable discrimination on those grounds to occur. They will not interfere with normal listing or vetting practices.

"This will ensure that all trade union members working in Northern Ireland will have similar safeguards and protections to those working in the rest of the UK."

Under the Regulations, it is unlawful to compile, use, sell or supply blacklists containing details of people who are, or have been, trade union members or who are taking part, or have taken part, in trade union activities where the blacklist may be used by employers to discriminate in relation to recruitment or the treatment of existing workers. Courts may award damages, including damages for injury to feelings, where the relevant provisions are breached.

The Regulations allow current and former trade union members to complain to an industrial tribunal if they are refused employment, subjected to a detriment, or unfairly dismissed for a reason relating to a blacklist. Employment agencies will also be unable to refuse to provide a service because a worker appears on a blacklist.

DEL originally consulted on this issue back in 2003 but, as there was no hard evidence of blacklisting taking place at that time, Regulations were not implemented.

However, in March 2009 the Information Commissioner announced that he had uncovered a vetting service operated by an organisation called The Consulting Association, for companies in the UK construction sector. The Consulting Association had collected information on the trade union membership and activities of many individuals, and this information had, in effect been used to blacklist them.

Given that some of the construction companies identified in the Information Commissioners’ investigation were linked to operations in Northern Ireland, DEL decided to investigate and carried out a public consultation to determine whether there was:

• evidence of blacklisting of trade union members occurring in Northern Ireland; and

• a need for regulations to prohibit the blacklisting of trade union members.

Following a 12 week consultation, the decision to draft Regulations to prohibit Blacklists was taken.

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