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Trade union representatives

Trade union reps

The issue:

Trade union representatives (or ‘reps’) are union members who represent and give advice to colleagues in their workplace. Trade union reps may be employees at their place of work or they may work for the Union itself and be drafted into a workplace to advise a fellow member.

TU reps who are employees at their place of work already have whistleblowing rights, and can help raise collective concerns, which can reduce the risk of an individual being targeted and victimised.  However, TU reps who work for a union do not have whistleblowing protection if they suffer victimisation from an employer where the Union has members.

Employment rights

Protect’s bill will extend legal protection to TU reps who do not work for the whistleblower’s employer but are at risk of victimisation for raising whistleblowing concerns. The new clause (tortious duty) in our bill also offers legal protection to a TU rep who suffers detriment as a result of assisting or helping a whistleblower (eg writing documents or attending meetings) but who does not make a disclosure themselves.

In addition, trade unions are a first point of contact for whistleblowers to seek advice and support. As such, it is only natural that a whistleblower would discuss their concerns with a TU rep or staff representative yet there is no clear protection in the law if they do so. Our bill provides legal protection where a whistleblower approaches either of these people, rather than just a ‘legal adviser’ as the law currently states.

Case study:

The issues of whistleblowing and trade union reps is particularly significant in the construction industry. According to this article, construction companies often do not have internal whistleblowing arrangements, choosing instead to rely on trade union reps to facilitate whistleblowing disclosures. This puts trade union reps in an even more precarious and uncomfortable position in an industry that does not have a particularly positive history of whistleblowing, in light of the 2009 Consulting Association blacklisting scandal. As such, offering whistleblowing protection expressly to trade union reps will help to improve the culture of speaking up in this sector.

Protect says

People who work for a Union must have whistleblowing rights in order to encourage them to raise concerns on behalf of members, and prevent them from suffering victimisation from an employer where the Union has members. Whistleblowing law should make clear that trade union reps who do not work for the whistleblower’s employer are protected under the law when raising concerns.

Trade union reps should also be protected where they assist and help a whistleblower. This is an important function to ensure public interest wrongdoing is raised and resolved.

Whistleblowing affects us all. Protect’s campaign Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law needs your support. Click the banner below to write to your local MP.