Sacked Crossrail spark blasts builders after blacklisting case settled

A former Crossrail worker has said he was fired and blacklisted after raising concerns about health and safety.

In a statement read out in the High Court today, Daniel Collins said there was a “culture of hostility” towards trade union activists in construction, which led to him being blacklisted from further work at Crossrail after sounding the alarm on a project that involved working at height.

Collins launched legal proceedings against Crossrail, Skanska, Costain, T Clarke and NG Bailey over the alleged blacklisting but the case was settled out of court in December 2021. As part of the settlement terms, Collins was able to make a statement in the High Court today. He also received an undisclosed sum for damages and to cover court costs.

The contractors and Crossrail have denied all allegations against them. They said they settled the court case “for purely commercial reasons” and “without admission of liability or wrongdoing”.

As an electrician working at Crossrail’s Bond Street station site in February 2015, Collins alerted his bosses to an unsafe “makeshift narrow walkway with no handrails”. He said there was a substantial risk of workers, who would often be carrying heavy bags of concrete or other equipment across the walkway, falling from the platform and getting “seriously injured”.

Collins did not feel the issue had been addressed and was fired three days later – even though he had been told there was three years’ worth of work available at the site.

A joint venture between Costain and Skanska was the main contractor at Bond Street at the time.

Though he had been working as an electrician in the construction industry since 1998 and had previously had “no significant difficulty” finding work, Collins said he then found it “increasingly difficult” to find work in the sector and particularly on Crossrail.

Collins alleged that he had been blacklisted from the project due to his trade union activities, and that his personal information was shared with other contractors to make it impossible for him to get work on Crossrail. He said that amounted to a breach of data protection rules.

On multiple occasions, Collins was offered work at Crossrail, which was then taken away from him days later.

In March 2016, an employment agency offered Collins a job at Crossrail’s Paddington site, where Costain-Skanska was the main contractor and T Clarke was the subcontractor. But days later he got a phone call from the agency telling him the order for employment had been cancelled as the roles had been filled internally.

In June 2016, Collins was told by another employment agency that there was work at Crossrail’s Old Oak Common station project, where T Clarke was the electrical contractor. Though he was sent induction forms and directions to the site, the employment agency told him four days later that the work was no longer available as the vacancies had been filled.

Collins said his difficulties in finding work led to mounting credit card debts and situations where he was unable to afford his household bills, meaning he had to rely on his partner, his parents and the Unite union to support him.

But he alleged his inability to get work on Crossrail was due to the contractors and the client operating a “secretive system of misuse of private information” about union activists in a bid to stop them from getting work.

In an email between Costain and NG Bailey in 2015, which Collins obtained through a subject access request, one manager warned that they had “a potential issue”.

“Daniel Collins is part of the Unite activist group,” the email added.

Teams at Costain, Skanska and T Clarke were also sent information about a separate grievance Collins had submitted regarding an employment agency. A labour manager at T Clarke forwarded the information to his group chief executive and added: “Read and delete!!!”.

“I hope we never end up with this bloke on any of our sites!”

Collins’ legal representatives also requested more documents from the contractors, one of which revealed T Clarke was sent the employment grievance Collins filed at Bond Street, even though the firm had no work at the site.

In 2016, Collins “took the difficult decision” to leave the sector after he struggled to find work, and joined the civil air transport sector as an electrician instead.

Collins’ legal claim was settled out of court in December 2021, with the former worker accepting the package as he was aware he “could be liable for very substantial legal costs” if he took the case to a trial.

A spokesperson for Skanska said: “Following Mr Collins’ statement today, Skanska reiterates its recognition of and support for employees’ rights to form or join trade unions, and that we take a proactive approach to building good relationships with the unions.

“Skanska is not engaged in any covert vetting or blacklisting and is not aware of this continuing in the UK construction industry,” they added.

A spokesperson for Costain said: “Costain demands the highest standards of practice regarding its recruitment and supply chain management. Mr Collins’ dismissal from the Crossrail site at Bond Street station in 2015 was due solely to there no longer being the required work available.

“We strongly denied the allegations and, as Mr Collins acknowledged in his statement, we do not accept that there has been any wrongdoing.”

A spokesperson for T Clarke said it “firmly denies those allegations and has done so at all times during the dispute”.

“While T Clarke is confident that it would have been successful in defending Mr Collins’ claim, the financial cost and inconvenience of doing so would have been disproportionate and commercially undesirable,” they added.

“T Clarke has a good and long-standing relationship with Unite and is a member of the JIB [Joint Industry Board]. It is disappointed that Unite and Mr Collins did not seek to resolve his complaints through the JIB mechanisms as opposed to resorting to legal proceedings.”

Crossrail ended Costain and Skanska’s role at Bond Street in June 2020, and instead took the job in-house. That saved the project more than £90m, Crossrail revealed last year.

A TfL spokesperson said: “Blacklisting is indefensible, unacceptable and has never been tolerated on the Crossrail project. We do not accept that there was any basis for this allegation.”

NG Bailey has also been contacted for comment.

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