We Can Win! ILO recognizes whistle-blower protection is part of its mission and mandate

The ILO technical meeting on the protection of whistle-blowers in the public service sector took place in Geneva, from 26 to 30 September 2022. Governments, workers, and employers from all over the world met for the first time in the history of the ILO to discuss about the protection of whistle-blowers in the public service sector, where public servants in oversight bodies play a key role in detecting and fighting corruption and other wrongdoings.

This meeting is the result of years of work in front of and behind the scenes, both by PSI and some affiliates. For instance, it builds on the PSI symposium on the protection of whistle-blowers, held at the ILO in  2017,  and in our more recent activities in Africa and the Caribbean . Also, in the many meetings with representatives of ILO member states and social partners.

The tripartite participants acknowledged that public service sector workers are often the first to know about threats or harm to public interest, and in that capacity play a key role in exposing wrongdoings and safeguarding the well-being of society and economies. However, in doing so they potentially face the threat of retaliation – including at their workplace – in multiple forms and from various actors, as well as prosecution.

We’ve been told repeatedly not to try and win - but this Working Group showed that with clear objectives, determination, and courage- we can win!

Another important recognition is that despite the lack of a uniform definition of what whistleblowing is or should be, “there is nonetheless a growing understanding among ILO members concerning the concept that constitutes whistle-blowing”, and that “the effort to protect whistle-blowers should be comprehensive, incorporating national, regional and international cooperation, which will allow governments and social partners to develop strategies to combat corruption and other wrongdoing”.

Although this is a first for the ILO, the protection of whistle-blowers has been discussed in other circles for some time now. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recently adopted its Guidelines on whistleblowing management systems; whereas the European Union adopted, in 2019, the Directive 2019/1937 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law. On the latter, EPSU and PSI are part of Whistleblower Protection EU – a broad coalition of trade unions and civil society organizations that supported this initiative.

The reason to have this discussion and address the issue within the ILO is because the protection of whistle-blowers is a workplace matter as well. Persons who report wrongdoing face retaliation – dismissal, mobbing, ostracizing – in their jobs. 

But perhaps the most important aspect of the meeting is that the WG got the result it was looking for – that further action from the ILO is needed and that all doors remain open, including a global framework for the protection of whistle-blowers in the public sector.

For the past 10 years we’ve been told repeatedly not to try and win; to self-restrain to not upset the employers; to accept the breadcrumbs offered to the workers and be happy with it. But this WG showed otherwise –we can win with clear objectives, determination, and courage. Not begging to get an agreement of minimums or even less, is still possible.

The recommendations agreed by the constituents will be submitted to the March 2023 session of ILO Governing Body, for further action.


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ILO technical meeting on the protection of whistleblowers in the public service sector - 26 Sep - 30 Sep 2022, Geneva


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