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Is the UK slipping behind internationally in whistleblowing protection?

‘We have delivered Brexit, and we will not use this new-found freedom to reduce worker’s rights’, was the response from Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to speculation his Department was gearing for a review of employment law with an eye on reducing workers’ rights in the name of deregulation. The EU Whistleblowing Directive implementation may well present the first key test of his pledge,  as whistleblowing rights in Europe threatens to overtake those in the UK.

Member states will have until 17 December 2021 to bring in protection laws that conform to a core set of standards to harmonise protection found in the EU Whistleblowing Directive. At a Transparency International and WIN online event on the 23 February, a panel discussed the pace of implementation which has been slow, as Governments across Europe grapple with Covid-19. 21 member states are in the process of implementing the Directive, according to EU Whistleblowing Barometer which tracks transposition across the continent, with Ireland and France carrying out public consultations on how to implement the new rules.  Harmonising protection is vital given the cross-border nature of corruption, wrongdoing and environmental risks. A case in point is the plight of UK whistleblower Jonathan Taylor held in Croatia with a threat of extradition to Monaco for exposing the corrupt practices of the Dutch oil company, SBM Offshore.

This poses a challenge for the UK where the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) has been the bedrock of legal protection for whistleblowers, yet will become drastically out-of-date once the Directive is implemented across Europe.

A key area of reform identified by Anna Myers (Executive Director of WIN)is the legal standards on employers when it comes to internal whistleblowing arrangements.  There is currently no legal requirement under PIDA for UK employers to have a whistleblowing policy, or to provide a confidential means to raise concerns, or any legal duty for feedback to be provided to the whistleblower. The UK approach has largely been to leave it to regulators or an employer’s self-interest to implement such procedures rather than to legislate.  This is an out-dated mode of thinking, given findings from our research has found so many whistleblowers feel ignored and isolated if they raise their concerns with their employer.[1]

Ministers have committed to a review in the past, but time is now upon us for details to be revealed as to what this process will look like, and when it will take place.[2] Meanwhile, Protect will continue to campaign for legal reform or PIDA.

 

 

[1] 33% of whistleblowers ignored when raising their concerns from the financial services sector, and 41% of whistlebblowers were ignored when raising concerns related to Covid-19.  All statistics taken from Protect research looking at our Advice Line case files.
[2] P.g. 14 of The use of nondisclosure agreements in discrimination cases: Government response
to the Committee’s Ninth Report of Session 2017–19