The Government is looking at potential law changes to give further protection to workplace whistleblowers.

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins has opened consultation on proposed changes to the Protected Disclosures Act.

The law is there to encourage people to speak up about serious wrongdoing in the workplace and protect them from losing their jobs or being mistreated as a result.

But the current law was not working as well as it should, Hipkins said.

“It is seen as weak and confusing and this needs to change. The law needs to be strengthened, it needs to be fair and it needs to be easy to understand.

“Most importantly, citizens who speak up in the public interest need to have confidence the law will protect them from punishment and reprisal.”

Whistleblower protection has become an increasingly important topic in the age of high-profile cases, including US former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, and domestic workplace issues such as the sexual harassment issues at law firm Russell McVeagh.

Since February the Government has been looking at whether the law and procedures need to be strengthened, and how.

The State Services Commission has published a summary on its consultation with the public and private sector, on key issues, challenges and options for reform.

Following the consultation, the Government has proposed five options for change:

– address the areas of confusion in the current Act and ensuring organisations have good processes in place;

– make it easier for people to report to an external, independent organisation at any time;

– establish stronger oversight and create a single port of call for advice on when and how to use the Act;

– introduce new reporting obligations for public sector organisations on protected disclosures to promote transparency and good practise; and

-introduce new reporting obligations for all organisations across the public, private and the not-for-profit sectors.

Hipkins reiterated these were options and said nothing had been decided at this stage.

Public consultation will run until December 7, with the State Services Commission expected to report back to the minister on the next steps early next year.

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