WIN Members gearing up for new EU Law
Protect’s new Whistleblowing Bill campaign starts UK’s reform.
Elizabeth Gardiner, Legal Officer at Protect (formally known as Public Concern at Work) discusses the charity's current campaign to improve whistleblowing protections in the UK.
Published: 19th of November 2019.
One of the (many) inspiring sessions at WIN’s Conference earlier this year revealed how trade unions and civil society organisations came together to promote the EU Whistleblowing Directive. We were told to expect 27 new campaigns to transpose the Directive across member states – with a rueful glance towards the UK delegates in the 28th member state.
So, the good news is that there will indeed be 28 campaigns, whatever future the UK decides on Brexit: Protect has drafted a new Whistleblowing Bill to reform our Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) and ensure we keep pace with the rest of the world. Our 20-year old law, which was once ground-breaking, needs updating.
We’ve been looking at best practice around the world as well as the EU Directive and our Bill’s key aims are to:
Our campaign has started, and we’ll be approaching new Ministers and Parliamentarians after the General Election in December, to encourage them to take this Bill forward. The good news is that there is cross-party support for reform in this area, but there are one or two other issues that are taking up Parliamentary time just now!
- Broaden the scope of who is protected. In the UK piecemeal reforms have left a messy picture – some job applicants are protected, others not, some contractors are protected but the genuinely self employed are not. A recent Supreme Court case – in which Protect intervened – decided that judges should have whistleblowing protection (the Court ruled that it would be discriminatory not to allow judges to exercise their human right to freedom of expression) – and now the law needs to be read as if it includes judges. We want to see all those who raise concerns in a work-related context to have the protection of whistleblowing law.
- Impose standards on employers. PIDA is silent on this matter but at Protect we think rights for whistleblowers should come with responsibilities for employers (of 50 or more employees) to have safe and effective channels for whistleblowing. We also propose a mandatory duty on employers to prevent retaliation or detrimental treatment against whistleblowers.
- Impose standards on regulators. Over the past few months, Protect has been working with regulators and “prescribed persons” for whistleblowing to learn about best practice in handling whistleblowers. We want all regulators to take seriously not just how they respond to concerns, but also what happens to the whistleblower – and impose sanctions where there is retaliation.
- Introduce a new independent “Whistleblowing Commissioner”. We’re proposing a new body be established to educate workers, set standards for employers and regulators, and investigate where standards are breached, with the power to issue fines against employers or regulators where there is malpractice.
- Strengthen the law on “gagging clauses”. The #Metoo movement and Parliamentary inquiries have revealed the extent that Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are misused in the UK. We want to see stronger wording and better legal support so that whistleblowers are clear about their rights.
- Reform to Employment Tribunals – our Bill proposes that whistleblowers should be given six months (not three) to bring claims, and that legal aid should be available to whistleblowers, to address the disparity in arms between employer and employee.
We also want to build momentum by seeking the backing of other groups in civil society to support our Bill. Let us know what you think – whether you’re a whistleblower, academic, employer, trade unionist or just interested – we’d love to hear from you. Let us have your feedback via our survey or via email to Elizabeth@protect-advice.org.uk
You can read more about Protect's draft Bill here.