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The apparent slowing of whistleblower legislation reform in New Zealand is discouraging – especially in light of research commissioned by the Ombudsman which finds public awareness of the Protected Disclosures Act ‘very low’.
Carried out UMR the research polled 1000 people in late March and early April in 2019.
“Just 9% of respondents said they were aware of the PDA, also known as the Whistle-blowing Act, an alarmingly low number given the importance of the Act for all New Zealanders, yet 21% of all respondents said they have witnessed serious wrongdoing at their workplace or previous workplaces”, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says.
The research found only 40% of respondents felt their jobs would be safe if they reported wrongdoing, with 34% saying their job wouldn’t be safe and 27% unsure.
According to the research lower paid workers were less convinced about their job security if they reported wrongdoing (31%). Respondents who were aware of the PDA were substantially more likely to feel their confidentiality would be guaranteed if they reported wrongdoing (73%) compared to those unaware (33%).
“There is a clear difference here between those who know about the Act and those who don’t, and that’s concerning”, says Boshier.
“Everyone reporting serious wrongdoing should have total faith that they are protected under the Act. The fact that so many people seem unaware suggests this important law is not working as well as it should”.
In the 2017/18 year, the Office of the Ombudsman dealt with 79 enquiries and requests for advice and guidance about making a protected disclosure. In the 2018/19 year so far, the Office has already dealt with 76 enquiries and requests. This is a significant increase over previous years, and suggests that awareness, although still very low, has been rising over the past two years.”
“Seventy-six percent of those aware knew that the Act covered government and private organisations [but] its important people understand the Act covers more than just the public service.”
“I will be making a big push over the next year to raise awareness of the Act, and highlight the safeguards it offers to whistle-blowers. We will be reviewing and publishing new guidance for both the public and private sectors”.