Monday, May 27, 2024

New whistleblower laws bolster protections for those who speak up

New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier says the passing of new whistleblower legislation will help reinforce New Zealand’s international reputation as a free and transparent society.

Mr Boshier says he welcomes the passage of the Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Bill (2020) through its third reading in Parliament.

“Insiders are usually the first to know about serious wrongdoing in the workplace. Every worker in New Zealand needs to know if they make a disclosure it will be taken seriously and action will be taken.”

Mr Boshier says the new legislation updates the original Protected Disclosures Act 2000.

“New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to introduce legislation that protects people who report concerns of serious wrongdoing in their workplace. But it was apparent that the original law wasn’t working as well as it should for either employees or organisations.

“I am pleased that Parliament has taken action because the law was definitely in need of an update.”

The new Protected Disclosures Act 2022 makes the disclosure process easier, extends and clarifies the grounds under which protected disclosures can be made and provides increased protection for whistleblowers.

It covers wrongdoing in, or by, any organisation, including small businesses, government agencies, and non-government associations and is relevant to anyone who has worked or volunteered for them.

The Act also provides clearer protection for people to speak up about wrongdoing, while protecting the whistleblowers themselves. It ensures confidentiality around who has made the disclosure, immunity from disciplinary action for making the disclosure, and protection from retaliation through the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

He said the new legislation also brings about some important changes for the Office of the Ombudsman from July.

“My advisory role is expanded to provide independent information and guidance to anyone. This includes both past and present employees, organisations (both public sector and others) and third parties.”

“Whistleblowers will now be able to raise matters directly with me and other appropriate authorities on a range of subjects without first having to complain within their organisation.

“I am expecting more agencies will come to me for advice or ask that I become involved. I welcome this,” he said.

Mr Boshier says robust corruption-fighting laws are important for New Zealand’s economy and international standing.

“New Zealand is rated at the top of the world along with Denmark and Finland, in terms of trust and transparency. It demonstrates our maturity as a nation to retain a steady top ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception index for close to two decades.”

He said it was important for people to feel they can raise these serious issues in confidence, without being punished for bringing them to light.

“Our reputation as an honest society free from corruption depends on it.”

Minister for the Public Service, Chris Hipkins said the Government was committed to protecting New Zealanders who speak up about serious wrongdoing in the workplace.

“One of New Zealand’s strengths is the high regard in which New Zealand Government and business organisations are held for their honesty and integrity,” said Minister Hipkins.

“It’s vital that employees and workers can freely speak up when they have concerns about ethics, risks, financial impropriety and safety in the workplace – without the fear of recrimination.”

“Another key improvement to the Act means a person, from any organisation or business, can make a protected disclosure direct to an appropriate authority at any time – instead of needing to disclose to their employer first,” he said.

“In the lead up to the Act’s commencement in July, we will build awareness of the new legislation – so that organisations know what they need to do, and people can better understand the protections available and feel safer raising their concerns when they do see something seriously wrong in their workplace.”

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