Bad bosses on the blacklist

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The Independent Online
THE Government has secretly drawn up a list of bad bosses, despite its anxiety to promote an employer-friendly image.

Internal memos in the possession of the Independent on Sunday show that businesses are being denied Department of Education and Employment services for a wide range of reasons - not just for breaching the law, but, for instance, for the perfectly legal practice of offering commission-only pay.

While officials have always kept an eye locally on "dodgy" companies, the Government now keeps regional records which list organisations operating undesirable employment policies and sends out regular e-mails to staff adding to the list.

In a change from the practice of previous governments, civil servants are now actively encouraged to pass on individual complaints about employers to regional offices.The information is being used partly to exclude suspect firms from taking part in the New Deal programme for unemployed 18- to 24-year-olds which is being launched nationally tomorrow.

One memorandum sent from a senior official told all district managers and Jobcentres in the London and the South-East region that they shouldn't accept one company's vacancies because of "an outstanding sex discrimination question". It said: "Until an assurance is received from the company that it will treat all its applicants with equal consideration, vacancies should not be serviced." Another note said Jobcentres "may have doubts about displaying" the vacancy of a firm which offers commission-only payment.

A "doubtful" private sector employment agency was said to be using "unroadworthy and untaxed" vehicles to take seasonal flower-pickers to work in the West country.

One official at a job centre in the region said small employment agencies made frequent appearances on the list. He said the Government was keen to ensure that no participant in the New Deal could legitimately refuse a suitable job with a company. "We can't be seen to be forcing people to work for dodgy firms... Some people on the list are just seen as bad employers - they are not necessarily breaking the law."

Stephen Dorrell, Conservative spokesman on education and employment, said he would pursue the issue. "The department exists to give a service both to the unemployed and to employers. The department has no right to create a blacklist of employers of which it disapproves."

The official list contains a substantial majority of small firms and trade unionists believe it calls into question some ministers' contention that they should be exempt from union recognition laws, to be debated tomorrow in the Commons.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, said his organisation had always argued that good employers had nothing to fear from unions. "The Government itself now officially accepts that bad employers exist and wants to exclude them from their own services," he said. "We simply want the legal right to tackle these bad employers in the workplace where we are the best people to defend employees from these unacceptable practices."