Stronger whistleblower protection needed
IMPACT has said it wants stronger protections for whistleblowers than the measures set out in the Protected Disclosures Bill, which was published in early July. The union will be part of an Irish Congress of Trade Unions delegation to meet departmental officials on the issue later this month.
The union has expressed disappointment that the proposed legislation fails to provide instant remedies for workers who suffer victimisation for revealing illegal or unethical practices in the workplace. This means sacking whistleblowers will remain a relatively risk-free option for bad employers.
The Bill increases the maximum compensation for unfair dismissal in whistleblowing cases from two to five years’ salary. But this would still leave staff seeking retrospective justice if they were sacked for whistleblowing, and IMPACT says the maximum compensation is still too low to properly protect staff.
IMPACT national secretary Matt Staunton said the Bill was overdue but welcome. “Under these proposals you can still lose your job for reporting corporate wrongdoing. And, if you have ten or 15 years to go on your mortgage, you could end up losing your home too. Staff who blow the whistle in good faith should be able to go to work the next day and carry on with their lives,” he said.
The union concedes that the new Bill is an improvement on existing legislation, set out in the 2011 Criminal Justice Act. Under this law, workers can be prosecuted, fined, and even jailed if they discover financial malpractice in their workplace and fail to report it. But they face prosecution themselves if they report in good faith and the information turns out to be wrong.
IMPACT says this places all the responsibility on the worker, while legal protections against victimisation of whistleblowers are too weak.
One IMPACT member lost his job after blowing the whistle on €4 million worth of fraud in his workplace. “His reward was a four-year ordeal. It began with him being disciplined for not reporting earlier. Then he had his own honesty questioned. The company he had helped put him through years of harassment, disciplinaries and hearings. He won them all, but his ordeal still culminated in him being thrown out of work,” said Mr Staunton.
The union wants the new legislation to include a statutory code of practice, which sets out procedures for whistleblowing including a clear process to deal with disputes between whistleblowers and their employers. Mr Staunton said the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) should be asked to draw up the code of practice.
Unions also want whistleblowing protections to extend beyond financial wrongdoing so that staff are protected if they report corporate illegality on a range of issues including consumer protection, workers’ rights, environmental safeguards, and health and safety.
IMPACT has also called for legal protections against employers who victimise staff for being a member of a trade union or for seeking union representation to pursue their interests and entitlements under employment rights legislation