Published On: November 10th, 2021

Published on 26 oktober 2021

At the end of September, the Dutch Parliamentary Committee for the Ministry of the Interior discussed the draft Whistleblower Protection Act submitted by Minister Ollongren. It seems that parliament is in favor of postponing the introduction of the Act, so that the Ministry can draft a better one. So, what are its shortcomings?

Parliamentary sessions

During the two sessions of the parliamentary committee a number of stakeholders and experts shared their views on the matter, such as the Dutch Whistleblowing Authority, Transparency International Netherlands, employers’ and employees’ organizations, Professor Wim VandeKerckhove and a few people with whistleblowing experience. The first session was rather disconcerting, as only Renske Leijten (Socialist Party), Pieter Omtzigt (independent MP) and Inge van Dijk (Christian Democratic Party) were present. Fortunately, the second session was much better attended.

During the sessions, the Ministry’s proposal was heavily criticized. For example, the evaluation of the current Dutch House for Whistleblowers Act was already completed in June 2020, but the Ministry has not done anything with it yet, reportedly because it would impede the rapid implementation of the European directive, which should be implemented by 17 December 2021 at the latest. It was also indicated that the draft legislation is not very clear.

Lack of support whistleblowers

The participants in the sessions indicated that any real interest in integrity is missing in the political arena. Particularly in respect of providing support to whistle-blowers. There is for example still no financial support offered to whistle-blowers, despite the fact that the Minister has previously announced an experiment with a fund. If retaliation against a whistleblower occurs, he or she must in the end still take the matter to a civil court for financial compensation. This costs a lot of time and money and is also very stressful.

House for Whistleblowers powerless

In addition, the current House for Whistleblowers lacks people, resources and powers. For example, the House would like to have the authority to impose – with the consent of the employee – a ‘standstill’ on the employer, whereby the employer may not take disciplinary action against a whistleblower for a period of three months. This interim period can be used to mediate between the reporter and the organization.

Furthermore, the House cannot currently impose sanctions on employers. As Professor Wim VandeKerckhove pointed out, the House “needs to get some teeth”.

The House indicated that it receives hundreds of calls annually. Remarkably, they notice a pattern of a culture of fear within schools and universities.

(Societal) wrongdoing

Transparency International Netherlands from their side proposed to extend the scope of the law to “wrongdoing”. Currently the House for Whistleblowers Act applies when there is “serious wrongdoing with consequences for society at large”; with the new EU directive, violations of EU law are added to the scope.

We think this make sense. One frustration of many whistleblowers is that the bar for “serious wrongdoing with an impact on society at large” is set quite high. Sometimes whistleblowers report wrongdoing and then expect to be protected. However, if the wrongdoing does not affect society at large, they are not protected and the House cannot do much for them. This leads to a lot of frustration. These whistleblowers experience the legislation as an illusion and some of them proclaim this loudly in the media.

During the session, Transparency International indicated that ‘harassment’ can also be a wrongdoing, but that whistleblowers who report this type of misconduct are not protected under the new legislation. In a subsequent article (link) we will give a painful example of this. And in this article (link to wish list) you can read more about our wish list for the new legislation.

Wish for postponement

In their written reaction to the bill, several stakeholders asked the Minister to withdraw the current bill because it is unnecessarily complex and difficult to implement. Many are asking for more than just a minimum implementation of the EU directive and more generous (financial) support for whistle-blowers. Moreover, the evaluation of the House for Whistleblowers Act should also be included. D66, the Democratic party, also raises the interesting question whether sufficient investments are being made in training the staff who will coordinate the internal reporting channel and whether there are currently enough well-trained people to be able to do this work. Obviously, the Integrity Coordinator provides a solution for this (link to course).

When reviewing the feedback on the proposed law, the majority in parliament seems to be in favor of postponing the introduction of the law, so that it can be further improved. We are curious to hear the Minister’s reaction.

And does this mean that you don’t have to do anything for the time being? We don’t think so. See: (link).

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