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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 03:24 GMT 04:24 UK

UK Politics

Whistleblowers protected by law

Employees can receive limitless compensation

Whistleblowers reporting corruption and malpractice at work will be protected from Friday when new legislation comes into force.

People have died because staff were too scared to speak out about dangerous practices.

BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg says that the Zeebrugge ferry disaster in 1987, the Clapham rail crash in 1988, the Lyme Regis canoeing tragedy and the child deaths at Bristol Royal Infirmary might all have been prevented if staff had felt they were able to alert their employers.

Sarah Boxhall reports: "At the moment whistle blowing is a risky business"
The Public Interest Disclosure Act aims to protect workers who raise malpractice, corruption and other wrong-doing with their employers, trade unions or other organisations.

Nearly all workers will be covered by the new legislation, originally a private members bill introduced by MP Richard Shepherd, including trainees and those working from home.

New law welcomed

The legislation also provides limitless compensation for workers who are found to have been unfairly dismissed by an industrial tribunal.

This aims to ensure that senior managers will not be deterred from bringing issues such as internal fraud to the attention of their company.

The Department of Trade and Industry has said the new law has been widely welcomed by employers and employees organisations.

Joshua Rozenberg reports: "People have died because staff were too scared to speak out"
The act aims to encourage employers to create an open culture where concerns can be raised and dealt with internally at an early stage.

Public Concern at Work, the charity that advises whistleblowers, has dealt with more than 1,200 serious allegations since October 1993.

New hotline

The cases it has dealt with range from care assistants who have seen elderly people bullied to accountants asked to make fraudulent returns.

The UK's biggest union Unison opened a special hotline for whistleblowers to encourage employees to speak out without fear.

Unison's General Secretary, Rodney Bickerstaffe, said: "The new rights enshrined in this legislation should ensure that no worker will ever again suffer injustice for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing.

"The welcome protection paves the way for a new climate of openness and partnership at work, creating a culture where staff are seen as a safety net rather than scapegoats."

Unison's hotline is 0800 597 9750.

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