New Zealand is a world leader in integrity, openness and transparency.
In 2017, New Zealand was ranked the least corrupt country in the world in Transparency International’s Corruptions Perception Index.
In line with this reputation, we were one of the first countries in the world to introduce a dedicated law to protect ‘whistleblowers’ in 2000 – the Protected Disclosures Act.
This law exists to support people to expose criminal, fraudulent or other serious misconduct in their workplace by protecting them from unfair dismissal or treatment.
It is vital to get this right. When something is wrong, people need to be able to raise issues safely without fear of punishment and reprisal.
However, the law is now 18 years old and is not working as well as it should. People don’t always know how to use the Act, or feel safe using it.
This needs to change. If we want to maintain our high standards, we must continue to work hard to tackle instances of serious misconduct across New Zealand.
We have an opportunity to update the Act and ensure it supports a clear and effective process for speaking up in the workplace.
We think the legislation should:
Help expose serious threats to the public interest
...by clearly focusing on conduct in the workplace that poses the biggest threat to the public interest – for example, criminal activity of any kind or a danger to public health and safety.
Encourage open organisational cultures
...by requiring all organisations to have good procedures in place that make it easy for people to speak up freely and without fear.
Be easy to use and understand
...by setting out clear definitions and rules that make it easy for people to know what the Act does and when, and how, to use it.
Promote fairness for everyone
...by ensuring everyone is treated with respect throughout the process.
That sounds good. But it gets complicated.
- What if people have genuine concerns that a co-worker or manager is doing something wrong, but end up being mistaken?
- What if employers find it hard to fulfil obligations and investigate allegations of serious wrongdoing because of insufficient information, resources or know-how?
- What if we open the regime up too wide and the law becomes a vehicle for false or misleading allegations, or concerns that are valid, but not in the public interest?
We need to ensure:
- people speak up about the right things.
- everyone is treated fairly and people do not suffer unfair reputational harm.
- obligations are easy to comply with and employers are supported to take action.
What would this system look like if it was working well?
People have access to the right kind of advice when they see or hear something that looks like ‘serious wrongdoing’, but are unclear about whether to use the Act or not.
When concerns are valid, but not in the public interest – for example, about being bullied or harassed by their manager or coworkers, they are referred to other sources of support and advice that are better suited to helping them.
When concerns are about conduct that could pose a serious threat to the public interest, organisations have simple and userfriendly processes in place for reporting concerns.
This means people:
- know who to report to and understand the protections that are available to them – wherever they work
- feel safe raising concerns and receive wrap-around support to minimise the risk of any unfair treatment
- are confident that the information they come forward with will be acted on and resolved in a timely manner
- will remain protected if they had genuine concerns but end up being mistaken.
Throughout the process:
- employers know what is expected of them and have the skills and ‘know-how’ to handle information about serious wrongdoing effectively
- people are satisfied that their concerns are listened to and taken seriously
- people are clear on the compensation available to them if they are mistreated or lose their job for speaking up
- the person and/or organisation suspected of serious wrongdoing is treated fairly.