Culture Studies · Life & General

Being A Whistleblower

Hi everyone! Today I’m writing about a tendency I developed as I matured into adulthood.

Basically, I’m a Whistleblower.

From the moment I stepped into my HR course at university, I had a humanistic focus. I care about the worker, not the employer; unless the employer wants to improve the workplace for the worker.

I’ve been told that I would make a good Union representative, due to my ability to near memorise every employment law statute present within an Australian industry of choice. I may not be a lawyer, but I certainly know when to call one. And while my role in research may be a degree removed from the intense realities of the everyday Australian employee, the impacts of my research so far have always had the stakeholder (in my case, employees within the Australian Public health system) at the center.

My bosses quickly learned about this trait within a few months of starting the job. I noticed something illegal/unsafe/unethical and I blew the whistle. I waved a flag and made a fuss until the issue was resolved.

Any near misses are one too many, I say.

Noticing injustices is a skill I garnered early in childhood as I complained that my younger siblings received looser treatment than I did. I was right – but a child’s complaints are rarely taken seriously. Allow that grudge to marinate for a number of years and you create an adult who works hard to make up for lost time. Signs of Ageism, Sexism, Racism, corruption and nepotism are big on my ‘will not tolerate’ list. It made me an excellent person to work for…and a nightmare to manage if my bosses were hiding something.

I’m looking at you, Mr stealing-from-the-till.

My HR course taught me what the actual responsibilities for management are, what a worker’s rights are, and what to notice. With a fine-tuned attention to detail when it comes to Occupational Health and Safety (thanks, neuroticism!) and an experience-based confidence, I’m now well practiced in whistle-blowing. So why do I do it, and how can other employees give it a go?

I essentially started ‘whistle-blowing’ at my first job in fast food. After one too many slips, health and safety violations, and illegal shifts, I’d had enough. I was no longer afraid of losing my job – honestly, by then I hated it – and I had the welfare of a number of non-Australian workers to consider. The rights of international employees not otherwise covered by Australian employment law weren’t always well defended…especially not in retail. So, I complained to the shift manager. Then the store manager. Then the district manager. Once or twice I contacted the food safety commission and the fair work ombudsman to audit the company – sparking a frantic scuffle as my employers desperately tidied the place up for a visit. It kept my bosses on their toes and treating their employees properly…at least temporarily.

My motivation to call out unethical and illegal behaviour intensified when I learned exactly how much my bosses were making off my labour.

Sure, you hesitate to complain about a minor inconvenience with distant potential to worsen…until you learn that, at $9 per hour, your boss made a $4,000 profit from every shift you worked.
Once you learn your worth, you start raising your voice.

With knowledge, I had leverage. With leverage, I gained power. With power, I improved my workplace. After I began creating a fuss over things that I noticed were unacceptable, they were fixed. Rusty knives were replaced. Meat-cooking implements were cleaned more often. A formal procedure for cleaning oil off the floor was created. Burns and cuts happened less frequently, managers paid more attention to the welfare of the staff…and I was occasionally called over to ‘check’ if the fix was adequate.

I’ll admit, it was the kind of thing that made a teenager giddy.

In Australian Employment Law, every employee has a right to a safe and respectful workplace. While you might not always be able to have the joy of a polite customer, a reasonable boss and a safe work site is the bare minimum. If you’re fired after making a complaint – that’s illegal. Australia has a free call centre and website to assist employees in ensuring that they have fair working conditions, HERE. Any worker in Australia can access the website or call an employee to check their rights and voice their concerns. Australia usually takes violations of employment law seriously – so if you’re worried it’s worth saying so. If your boss doesn’t listen, escalate the issue until someone responds.

At the end of the day you are the one making money for your boss. By giving you a job, your boss isn’t generously ‘allowing’ you a wage – they’re usually making huge dividends off your efforts. Go on – check the annual profits for your workplace if you can. If it’s a small business and they refuse to show you…you probably have your answer.

I won’t go into the long and winding history of Employment Law in Australia and how this country became one of the most tightly regulated places to work in the world due to various human rights transgressions and disgruntled employees demanding a fair wage. Needless to say, Employment Law is part of the foundations of the fabric of industrialized Australia, and I’m glad to think that it’s here to stay.

So go on; if you have done your research at the Fair Work Ombudsman and realised that your situation is a legal breach, make an anonymous report. An infringement notice can be served to the employer to give them a warning before a legal claim is made. You don’t even have to mention that you were the ‘whistle-blower’.  Some industries have different laws governing workplace rights and regulations (nursing and medicine come to mind as ‘essential services’ are governed differently to retail) but as a baseline, if it looks or feels unsafe it probably is.

If you have any general questions about your rights at work and you can’t find it on the Ombudsman’s website, contact me and I’ll be able to send you the relevant documents.
(I am a researcher, after all!)

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