The Council of Europe has developed legal instruments for protecting individuals who report or disclose information on acts and omissions in the workplace that represent a serious threat or harm to public interest. Several stories being emerged in the global media about whistleblowers being silenced against during the COVID-19 pandemic, has brought special attention to Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)7 and EU Whistleblowing Directive on the Protection of Whistleblowers both setting out the framework to facilitating whistleblowing protections.
Recommendation no. CM/Rec(2014)71 ("Recommendation") was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on April 30, 2014. It stresses the vitality of whistleblowing and protection of whistleblowers in preventing wrongdoings in the workplace. It addresses key principles around whistleblowing to ensure the following:
- diverse channels are available to report and disclose information that is potentially harming public interest,
- effective mechanisms are run to maintain an environment wherein such disclosure and reports are processed promptly,
- whistleblowers are entitled to certain rights including keeping their identities confidential.
The EU Whistleblower Directive ("Directive")2 entered into force on December 16, 2019. Pursuant to this Directive, EU member countries are required to enact conforming national legislation on whistleblowers by 2021. Directive brings a high level protection to whistleblowers across many sectors. As per the Directive, reports to the public are protected when they concern imminent harm to public interest.
In some countries cases wherein several doctors and nurses have been fired and disciplined for expressing worries about their work conditions, also in relation to a lack of personal protective equipment, required certain responses to public accountability. Accordingly, as the current crisis highlights, every time a whistleblower is silenced, the risk to public health and safety increases proportionately.
Furthermore, the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) acknowledges the crucial role of whistleblowers in managing the increased risk of corruption during the COVID-19 outbreak. In this regard, the protection of whistleblowers in the health sector is explicitly listed as a key competency in the fight against corruption and gross mismanagement during the pandemic.
To conclude, importance of protecting access to information in the context of a global emergency, when so many lives and livelihoods are at risk should not be underestimated. Protecting whistleblowers during pandemic is vital to keeping us all safer and informed.
This article was first published in Legal Insights Quarterly by ELIG Gürkaynak Attorneys-at-Law in September 2020. A link to the full Legal Insight Quarterly may be found here
2 Can be accessed from https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52018PC0218 (last accessed on September 3, 2020).
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