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UK whistleblowers will be ‘Brexit casualties’ as the EU gets set to shake up whistleblowing bringing in ground-breaking legal measures protecting both public and private sectors.

The EU move on introducing a whistleblowing Directive – set to be made into whistleblowing legislation and policy – follows years of campaigning by NGOs, trade unions and journalists and will see an end to fragmented gaps in whistleblowing protection across EU countries.

Whilst good news for Europe, Protect (formerly known as Public Concern at Work) believes UK whistleblowers are being left behind its European neighbours.

New EU rules, announced today, (Monday 23) will require all organisations to have reporting channels for whistleblowers and to respond to whistleblowing issues raised in a timely manner. This is missing from the current UK whistleblowing legislation, PIDA (the Public Interest Disclosure Act) introduced 20 years ago.

Workers, the self-employed, shareholders, volunteers, unpaid trainees and contractors, subcontractors and suppliers will also be protected by new EU rules. It even stretches far enough to cover those going for a job interview. PIDA has too many holes with UK whistleblowers falling through the gaps.

PCaW Chief Executive, Francesca West said, “We are calling on the UK government to urgently review and amend our PIDA legislation so that the public interest is protected and workers feel safe to raise concerns about wrongdoing risk or malpractice and harm is prevented. We have intervened in many cases helping whistleblowers such as junior doctor, Chris Day, and District Judge Claire Gilham who found they were not covered by PIDA.

She added, “UK whistleblowers will be facing reduced rights compared to other EU citizens when the UK leaves the EU.”

An EU stakeholder survey noted the top four areas where whistleblower protection is needed according to respondents are:
**
(i) the fight against fraud and corruption (95% of respondents);

(ii) the fight against tax evasion and tax avoidance (93% of respondents);

(iii) the protection of the environment (93% of respondents); and

(iv) the protection of public health and safety (92 % of respondents)**

Protect, which this year marks its 25th anniversary helping whistleblowers and organisations, will continue to lobby government for an overhaul of the whistleblowing legislation PIDA.

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For the last 20 years, the UK has had in place statutory employment protection for those raising whistleblowing concerns within the workplace – under the whistleblowing law, PIDA (Public Interest Disclosure Act). It is hard to imagine that before this, a worker speaking up in the public interest could not be guaranteed the support of the law.

Nevertheless, compared to other European countries, the UK was well ahead of the curve.

Many countries within the EU still have no legal protection for whistleblowers and for those that do, this protection is relatively new. This is why the proposed new EU Directive on whistleblowing – which enforce all EU countries to introduce minimum measures – is so exciting.

Protect Head of Advice and Advocacy, Bob Matheson, attended the launch event at the European Parliament this month.

He said, “This is a massive achievement for all those involved in driving forward this cause; just months ago the European Commission appeared to be sending strong signals that there wouldn’t be any legislating at all in this area. The Directive isn’t exactly what we would hope to see, but it’s a big improvement on what we were expecting.”

As the UK’s relationship with the EU changes, it may not be that the Directive will be directly applicable to our law, but it is still likely to have a big effect and create problems.

Firstly, while the workforce increasingly operates in a global market, without across-the-board protection, some whistleblowers will end up falling through the cracks between protection across different countries.

Secondly, this Directive gives us a strong platform on which to campaign for developments to our own law. The UK government has undoubtedly become complacent given the low levels of protection available across its neighbours; this is a real wake-up call, though, as to the areas our own law needs to improve in order to be effective.

Protect will certainly be lobbying for further tweaks to the Directive as well as our campaign for a review of PIDA.

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Katherine Gun blew the whistle on GCHQ spying on the UN Security Council, revealing an illegal attempt to undermine the democratic process and increase the appetite for war in Iraq. And she did it within 48 hours.

The event ‘War, Journalism and Whistleblowers: 15 years after Katharine Gun’s truth telling on the verge of the Iraq War’ at Birkbeck University, co-ordinated by: Veterans for Peace UK, ExposeFacts, RootsAction, Media Reform Coalition, National Union of Journalists, Centre for Investigative Journalism, Courage Foundation, and Big Brother Watch; which I attended, demonstrated the broad benefit whistleblowing brings to civil society.

Working as a Mandarin translator at GCHQ – the British government’s communications HQ in Cheltenham – Gun leaked a confidential US National Security Agency email to the Observer newspaper. The memo asked her and her colleagues to help the US government spy on UN security council delegations in New York. The belief was this would help the US and UK governments to swing wavering countries in favour of a planned invasion of Iraq. It cost Gun, who now lives in Turkey with her family, her job. She was arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act. A new film, out later this year, starring Keira Knightley and Matt Smith, will tell her GCHQ whistleblowing story.

Whistleblowers on the panel from the US and the UK had each endured an unimaginable battle, revealing the wrongdoing of their own governments and nations. On the panel was legal counsel Jesselyn Radack, who represented Edward Snowden; and media and press were represented by author and presenter Duncan Campbell.

After introductions had been made, a video greeting from Daniel Ellsberg (known for leaking the Pentagon Papers, and revealing the extent the US mislead the public on Vietnam) was shown, in which he called Katherine Gun his hero.

Thomas Drake, the NSA Senior Executive and Analyst, spoke candidly of his own reservations about coming forward. At a time where Dick Cheney was telling Congress and the world the US had ‘slam dunk’ evidence that Iraq was an imminent threat to the US; Drake knew this was inaccurate – there was no intelligence to support such a stance. And yet, for some time, the entire intelligence community appeared to stay silent. Drake first made attempts to alert his senior colleagues, and then Congress, before resorting to encrypted messaging to raise his concerns with a journalist.

Matthew Hoh, who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, became the highest ranking US government official to publically renounce his countries foreign policy. Hoh won the Ridenhour Prize for truth telling about the injustice he witnessed, and now joins the Veterans for Peace march to the cenotaph each Armistice Day, wearing a white rose. Matthew told how he considers himself to have witnessed and contributed to an act of unjustified aggression, against a target which presented no threat.

But whistleblowing is not just for those who have witnessed war. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 has been called “the most authoritarian regime of any democratic society” by Silkie Carlo, CEO of Big Brother Watch. Carlo spoke of how whistleblowing protects the values of a free society, delivering truth through free speech and press, and that the public must be a live to any attempt to subvert it. The bulk hacking revealed by whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, who revealed the GCHQ hacking program ‘Optic Nerve’, which covertly took images of millions of public webcam users; shows how invasive unchecked surveillance powers can be.

Speaking up is hard, and sometimes thankless. But it’s unbelievably valuable, and those who try the hardest to silence you, are often the ones most scared by what you have to say.

By PCaW Adviser Laura Fatah.

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Social care in England is undervalued, underfunded and on the brink of collapse. Being old and in care can, for some people, feel precarious. The statistics showing the state of care homes across the UK are sobering. The Care Quality Commission regulator says almost one in four care homes are inadequate or require improvement, while Age UK says 1.2 million people over 65 had some level of unmet care needs in 2016-17.

Protect (formerly known as Public Concern at Work) believes the care sector could benefit if staff feel able to speak out. With so many care homes rated inadequate or in need of improvement, we believe residents and staff face risk, danger and malpractice. The 400 annual calls to our whistleblowing advice line from the care sector are, we suspect, just scratching the surface of the problems facing care homes. Protect would like to gain a clearer picture of whistleblowing in care homes, which is why we have launched a survey.

Our advice line receives about 2,500 calls a year, and its findings should worry anyone working in senior management in the care home sector:

  • Care staff are often left unsupported by their employer, with one in three saying their whistleblowing concerns – often a safeguarding or patient safety issue – were ignored.
  • More than half of whistleblowers also reported some kind of victimisation, with 23% saying they have been dismissed after raising concerns.

Staff are the eyes and ears of an organisation and can act as an early warning system of potential risk or malpractice. Staff who feel comfortable raising a concern, or whistleblowing, may possibly save lives or complex litigation down the line.

Alerting managers to potential risks, wrongdoing or malpractice long before it becomes a problem is a good thing. Much of our work at Protect is getting this message across to organisations and encouraging them to not only embrace whistleblowers, but also be grateful for the issues staff raise.

It sounds simple. If it were, Protect would not need to exist.

This summer, the government is due to publish a much-needed green paper on reforming care for older people, which we welcome. However, until then, we’re very concerned about the issues facing the 1.5 million care home staff in England and those they care for. If you work in care homes, please help us at Protect to build a clearer picture of whistleblowing and the issues facing care homes in England.

Whether you are a care home worker, nurse or manager, we would like to hear your views in our very short survey ( which is open until the end of April). The results (email addresses and names will not be captured or featured in this survey) will help Protect campaign for stronger whistleblowing in care homes.

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THE STORY

FA worked as a care assistant in an old people’s home. He and some of his colleagues were worried that SM, one of the managers, might be stealing cash from the residents. SM, looked after residents’ pocket money and kept a record of when sums were paid out. FA was fairly sure that money was recorded as being given out to particular residents when they had received none.

After a while, he thought he had to raise the concern as the amount involved was adding up. After he raised his concerns with the owners of the home, an investigation quickly found FA was right, SM was dismissed and the police were called in. Relations within the home were tense as some of SM’s friends strongly objected to the whistleblowing. Within weeks, FA was suspended over allegations that he had mistreated the residents. He rang us.

WHAT WE ADVISED

We advised that he should bite his lip and deal with these allegations squarely. Although the investigation found they had no substance, the owners decided to transfer FA to another home. FA was very unhappy and rang us again. We helped him draft a letter to the owners explaining that he wanted to stay at that home and that transferring him after he had blown the whistle would give out the wrong messages to other staff.

WHAT HAPPENED

The owners reconsidered and FA stayed at the home. When FA rang to tell us that SM had been convicted of stealing £1400 from the residents, he said the atmosphere in the home was now much improved.

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PCaW were invited to attend an event in Brussels at the European Union Parliament to remember Maltese journalist and anti-corruption activitist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was murdered last year in a car bomb.

The conference, ‘Protecting the truth: Safety for Journalists and Whistleblowers’  was organised by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left.  It was opened by Daphne’s son Andrew who addressed the EU Parliament with a moving speech declaring that the “fight for truth and justice is a universal one”.

Read the blog in full by Chev Ilangaratne

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We all have legal rights, but it’s not always easy to access them. As Sir James Mathew, an Irish judge is said to have quipped, over one hundred years ago: in England, justice is open to all, “like the Ritz Hotel.”

In 2015, with this in mind, a former UN lawyer founded CrowdJustice – the first and only crowdfunding platform built for legal cases and projects with a mission to make the law more accessible to all.

Crowdfunding enables public-spirited individuals to get behind those who are facing difficult legal challenges, as well as those who are using the law proactively to create change. Funds raised go directly to the lawyer’s client account, which adds credibility to the campaign and comfort to backers, who know that funds raised are going directly to support a genuine legal case.
Read more

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PCaW is supporting a new anti-cartel crackdown launched by the UK’s competition authority, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).

Cartels are businesses which cheat their customers by agreeing not to compete with each other so that they can keep their prices high.There are serious penalties for being in a cartel, but many workers in the UK know little about them, putting them and their companies at risk.

The CMA campaign encourages people to be “Safe, not Sorry” if they think they may have involved themselves in cartel activity and to make sure they are the first to report it to the CMA.

Backing the campaign, PCaW Chief Executive Francesca West, said, “We know from our experience that speaking up isn’t easy, but it is often the only way to prevent further harm. It is encouraging the CMA has seen a 30% rise in people coming forward to report the illegal behaviour of cartels.”  Read more

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