NUPGE brief to Parliament says legislation should cover private companies as well as government
Ottawa (13 June 2006) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposed Federal Accountability Act is an improvement in several ways over existing legislation but falls well short of what is required to give real whistleblowing protection to public employees, says the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
"Whistleblowers, under C-2, will have more protection than they used to have," Larry Brown, national secretary-treasurer of the 340,000-member union, says in a brief to the legislative committee studying the legislation.
"But we feel the move forward is so begrudging, so ultimately controlling and protective of the federal government as an employer, that it becomes, in the end, a far from satisfactory result," he argues.
Brown outlines five key concerns with the bill as drafted:
- Protection to employees is confined to "limited areas" such as gross mismanagement, misuse of funds, danger to life and health or serious breaches of a code of conduct. Instead, protection for whistleblowers should simply cover "all wrongdoing of any serious description."
- Whistleblowers are restricted from raising complaints with their unions, the police (except in emergencies), politicians or the media. They are restricted to making their complaints internally in almost every case.
- Employees will not be adequately protected against reprisals for whistleblowing. While it will prevent firing or formal discipline against an employee, it does not address more subtle reprisals such as ostracization and the banishment of employees to the "office equivalent of Siberia." Also, the onus is placed on the employee to show that a reprisal was linked to whistleblowing instead of on the employer to show that it was not. Further, there is no requirement to discipline those who may take reprisals against whistleblowers.
- The plan to 'reward' whistleblowers with a $1,000 payment is "both insignificant and insulting" at the same time. "Does anyone seriously think that public sector workers need to be enticed by money to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in their departments?
- The legislation only applies to the government and government agencies when it should cover all areas under federal jurisdiction. A serious omission is that private companies, even those doing business with the government, are not covered.
Private companies should be included
On the latter point, Brown argues that private companies have a huge impact on the public and ought to be subject to the same whistleblowing scrutiny that is applied to governments.
"For example, are passengers of a commercial airline, and the general public, less deserving of information disclosing wrongdoing in the maintenance and operation of an aircraft?" he asks.
"Moreover, it would be rare to find a private company where the public had no interest in the environmental practices of the organization, or where the public had no legitimate interest in whether the company practiced or encouraged corruption," he says.
"There are hundreds of examples of public safety issues arising from private corporations. Think of the oil rigs, tankers, transport trucks, and the manufacturing processes that the public has every right to be concerned about," Brown adds.
"The public and employees of private corporations have vital interests in the operations of private sector corporations – including economic interests, health and safety interests like in the Westray Mine disaster, safe product issues for consumers, and on and on."
"If we were to consider a logical distinction between public and private sector whistleblower rights, where would the dividing line be? “Public services” are rarely delivered exclusively by government. They are complex, mixed systems that combine a continually shifting mix of public and private funding, as well as public, not-for-profit and for-profit delivery. Bill C-2 simply ignores this reality." NUPGE
• For copies of the NUPGE brief on C-2, and related questions,
please contact Mike Luff (613) 228-9800 or firstname.lastname@example.org