Thursday, August 17, 2017

No protection for whistleblowers in NZ

There's been some debate about the need for increased whistleblower protection in New Zealand. And today, we have a perfect example of why it is needed: because the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki has just got the Employment Relations Authority to punish someone for blowing the whistle on them:

A whistleblower has been ordered to pay $6000 for writing disparaging letters to politicians David Cunliffe and Steven Joyce about the Taranaki polytech where she used to work.

Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (Witt) hired three handwriting analysts to ascertain whether the letters were written by Angela Parr, former personal assistant to Witt chief executive Barbara George. All three concluded that in all likelihood they were.

Employment Relations Authority concluded that Parr's actions were "flagrant, deliberate and at the upper end of wrongdoing".

"Furthermore by her defence Mrs Parr has shown no remorse. There is a strong case for condemnation and a need for deterrence."

The problem of course is that Parr's letters appear to be "protected disclosures" in terms of the Protected Disclosures Act. They were certainly presented as that when raised in Parliament:
Hon David Cunliffe: What action is the Minister taking to protect whistle-blowers to the Tertiary Education Commission, following allegations conveyed to him in a letter dated 14 February 2016 that the Western Institute of Technology is using taxpayers’ funds to pursue a legal vendetta against both former and current staff members who have properly raised substantiated probity issues to the Tertiary Education Commission?

From this, it appears that the allegations were raised up the chain, and ultimately to the Minister, as permitted by s10 of the Act. Unless they were shown to be in bad faith, the protections of the Act against civil proceedings should have been engaged. The Minister should also have treated the disclosure confidentially. Instead, he appears to have initiated a witch-hunt. As for the Employment Relations Authority, they appear not to have even considered the protections of the Act in their decision, not even to dismiss them. Which means they have helped WITT and the Minister piss all over the act and victimise a whistleblower.

And then we wonder why people don't come forward with allegations of wrongdoing in New Zealand. This is why: because the law does not protect them, even when it should.