The fight against corruption relies heavily on employees being vigilant and standing up for their rights, but these employees need support – especially when their disclosure could make them vulnerable to discrimination or victimisation.
A solution comes in the form of a recently produced manual by the Open Democracy Advice Centre (Odac), which advises shop stewards on how to deal with employees’ complaints of corruption in the workplace. Odac is also behind the hard-hitting Right2Know media campaign.
The guide is aimed at shop stewards, as they are often best positioned as the go-between between general employees and management. It applies to both the private and public sector.
The manual explains the term whistleblowing as the act of reporting unlawful or irregular conduct in the workplace to a more senior member of staff. This is done in the interest of ridding the operation of corruption.
For the employee’s benefit, the steward has to be equipped with sufficient knowledge of how the process of whistleblowing works, and what policies are in place to protect the individual disclosing – all this is in the manual.
The Protected Disclosures Act (PDA) of 2000 states that every employer and employee has a responsibility to disclose criminal and other irregular conduct in the workplace.
The Act also protects those who do this, by stating that the responsibility of every employer is to ensure that there are measures in place to protect whistleblowers from being victimised or dismissed as a result of their disclosure.
Information is power
Employees need to know that power lies in the information they may have about wrongdoing in the workplace, and they should not feel obligated to keep quiet simply because they rely on the company for income.
An example used in the manual is that of a construction worker who is caught up in a dilemma: a foreman gives the worker orders to skimp on some of the materials, and also steals supplies from the company.
The foreman’s actions could lead to substandard houses being built for an entire community, but the construction worker is worried about the consequences of reporting this. He is concerned it could lead to his company’s tender being reviewed and him losing his job.
The example raises two important issues, whether or not the worker can lodge a complaint against an employee more senior to him, and how this act may be interpreted by his employers.
In the event of the construction worker deciding to approach the shop steward for advice, the union representative must know that both of them will be protected in terms of the law.
Using the guidelines provided in the manual, the shop steward could be able to point out key factors in the complaint:
The criminal offence aspect of the case stems from the theft of company-owned material by the foreman, but his failure to comply with his company’s legal obligations is also highly problematic, and one that will directly affect the quality of their service and products.
Furthermore, the foreman will endanger the health and safety of the potential occupiers of the houses being built, by encouraging substandard workmanship.
These can be viewed as important factors in the case against the foreman, and with this information in hand, the shop steward, acting as a legal representative of the construction worker, can disclose to the relevant individual within the structure of that organisation.
If, for some reason, a shop steward cannot take on the case of the construction worker, he is welcome, and protected by law, in forwarding the complaint to a senior staff member who would be able to address the wrongdoing.
Employees who want to lodge a complaint need not start the process within the structures of their company or government entity if they don't feel comfortable. Outside the company, the Protected Disclosures Act gives Cabinet ministers or members of provincial executive councils (MECs), the Public Protector and the Auditor-General the authority to take on complaints.
The employee is not obliged to begin the process within his or her organisation.
Who else you can report to:
Tel: (011) 447-1472
Email: email@example.com or go to our online reporting tool here.
Tel: (012) 322-2916
Fax: (012) 322-5093
Public Service Commission Hotline
Tel: (012) 328-7690
Hotline: 0800 701 701
Tel: (012) 426-8000
Fax: (012) 426-8257
CCMA (Commission for Conciliation
Mediation and Arbitration)
Tel: (011) 377-6650
Fax: (011) 834-7351