Safeguards for whistle-blowers sought in Bill

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The Independent Online
Whistle-blowers at work would be given much better guarantees against discrimination and dismissal, under a Bill introduced in the Commons today.

Tony Wright, Labour MP for Cannock and Burntwood, the Bill's sponsor, said he had all-party support for the measures, intended to protect employees who raise legitimate concerns in good faith. If people had felt more confident they would not be punished, said Mr Wright, disasters like the Piper Alpha oil platform explosion, the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry capsize, and the Lyme Bay canoe tragedy might have been averted.

One of the worst financial collapses, BCCI, might also have been avoided. The inquiry into its pounds 2bn demise found the bank had an "autocratic environment" where no one dared to speak out. The only BCCI worker known to have reported irregularities was made redundant.

Under the Bill, whistle-blowers would be given new rights to: seek compensation for loss of earnings and stress; obtain injunctions to halt threats of punishment; and claim for unfair dismissal at an industrial tribunal even if they have been employed for less than the normal two years minimum.

Derek Fatchett MP, who accompanied Mr Wright at a press conference to launch the Bill, said he was confident the proposal would succeed, despite the failure of his NHS whistle-blowers' Bill three years ago. Senior Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs had indicated their support.

The MPs said the Bill was designed to balance "the normal duty of confidentiality owed by employees against the disclosure of matters of public interest". If the information could not be shown to be in the public interest, no protection would be afforded. They were backed by representatives from Public Concern at Work, a charity set in 1993, and the Freedom of Information Campaign.

The press conference was addressed by Peter Smith, once a successful branch manager with a large life insurance company.

After being told by a junior colleague that another branch was flouting rules and using trainees to sell life policies, Mr Smith informed head office. The chief executive did nothing, while at the same time, Mr Smith was subjected to threats from his immediate superior.

Meanwhile, the junior colleague contacted the regulatory organisation Lautro, which subsequently held a formal investigation and found serious malpractice. Soon after being made manager of the month for his sales performance, Mr Smith was made redundant.

"My family have suffered emotionally and financially ever since," he said. "You are made to feel as though you are on your own, that you are wrong.

"If this Bill can help people not to suffer what I have suffered I will support it."