An app which rates the performance of asbestos workers could potentially be used to blacklist and discriminate workers, Unite, the UK’s construction union, has warned.

The app was launched yesterday (September 1) by the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA).

App concerns 

However, after a close reading of how the app appears to work and in particular the way that contractors rate operatives, Unite is concerned that the app could be used to victimise and blacklist workers.

Unite has written to Jason Davy, the chairman of ARCA raising its concerns.

Contractor scoring 

Unite national officer for construction Ian Woodland said: “Unite is fully committed to the underlying principle that asbestos removal work must be undertaken by trained workers who undertake the work safely.

 “However, Unite fears that in an attempt to ensure competency levels, ARCA has created a system which allows unscrupulous contractors to victimise and blacklist workers who, for example, may have challenged dangerous working practices, giving them a low score when rating their ability.

 “A low mark would then result in the affected worker struggling to be hired for future asbestos removal work.

 “Unite is concerned that there is no evidence that the app includes sufficient safeguards to prevent blacklisting and discrimination to occur.

 “Unite has written to Mr Davy to raise our concerns and is seeking a meeting in order to ensure that these concerns are resolved.

 “In the meantime Unite would urge that the roll out of the app is suspended in order to ensure that workers cannot be blacklisted, discriminated or victimised by this technology.”

 ENDS

Notes to editors:

Copy of the letter in full

 Asbestos Labour Feedback App

Dear Jason Davy,

Unite, the UK’s construction union, shares the same values as your organisation ARCA in its absolute commitment that asbestos removal should only ever be undertaken by highly trained operatives, who are supplied with the correct protective equipment and where the safe disposal of asbestos is guaranteed.

However Unite has serious concerns about the Asbestos Labour Feedback App (ALFA) which you launched yesterday (September 1).

While Unite recognises that it is vital that workers undertaking asbestos work need to be fully qualified, the union believes that this can be best achieved through the licencing of labour providers and a fully comprehensive competency skills card scheme. Such systems operates in many other sectors of the construction industry.

By creating an app that allows contractors to rate workers with no evidence to support that marking, you have inadvertently created a situation where workers can be victimised and blacklisted.

In actual fact by establishing this system, work may well become more dangerous, from Unite’s experience of construction blacklisting (both historic and contemporary) the workers who were most often targeted, were those who raised safety concerns and were blacklisted for attempting to keep themselves and fellow workers safe. Workers will be reluctant to raise safety concerns or challenge dangerous practices, as they will fear being subjected to revenge marking which will hamper their prospects of future employment.

Does your app have any safeguards built into it to ensure that blacklisting and victimisation cannot occur? Is any evidence required to back up the contractors scoring? Are the markings directly shared or accessible by the operative? Is there an appeals procedure against low marks?

Is the only way for an operative to learn how they have been scored by submitting a subject access request to your organisation, or is there a more transparent way to check that marks are considered fair?

I hope that these matters can be resolved but given the fact that blacklisting has scarred our industry and continues to occur, I hope you understand why Unite is raising these issues.

I look forward to your response to this letter and perhaps this matter should be further pursued through a meeting between ourselves.

Yours sincerely

Ian Woodland

Unite national officer for construction

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.