LAST week Private Bradley Manning was jailed for 35 years for leaking US military documents to Wikileaks. The scale of his activity and the worldwide media attention it received has resulted in Manning being branded the ultimate whistleblower.
But what does whistleblowing mean in a more everyday context, and what protection is there for the people who do it? Whistleblowing refers to the act of a worker informing an employer, legal adviser or other official that they suspect or know dangerous/illegal activity is taking place.
The whistleblower will, in most situations, be protected by the law if they encounter any mistreatment as a result of their whistleblowing.
After Private Bradley Manning passed Afghan war logs, Iraq war logs, and other classified US military cables to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, he was charged with several criminal offences and detained in a Kuwaiti military camp.
This is an extreme example of a whistleblower being made to suffer for revealing damaging, private information.
A more commonplace example could be the shop worker who tells their manager that another worker has been seen taking money from the till, and the manager responds by giving them a warning about making such serious allegations and docks their wages.
Legislation to protect people from such treatment at work was first introduced in the UK in July 1999, after several high-profile disasters such as the sinking of the Zeebrugge ferry, the Piper Alpha explosion and the BCCI financial scandals.
Investigations into all of these cases found that staff had been aware of the risks but either they were too scared to speak out or they had done so in the wrong way or to the wrong person. The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) was introduced to help change this pattern, and to try to avoid similar tragedies in future.
Now, changes have been made to PIDA which will widen the scope of whistleblowing laws, and have a particularly significant impact on employers. The main implications of these reforms will be that: | Whistleblowers no longer have to prove that they acted in good faith. This should make it easier for whistleblowers to be protected, but their honesty and motives for whistleblowing can still be questioned in legal proceedings; | Whistleblowers will now only be protected if they believe that they are acting "in the public interest". …