Transposition of the Whistleblower Protection Directive: Experiences from Greece
Whistleblowers play a democratic role in our society by reporting or disclosing information on a threat or harm to the public interest in the context of their work-based relationship, whether in the public or private sector. Protecting them is a matter of fundamental rights because it is based on freedom of expression and information.
In the military, whisteblower cases in recent years concerned issues of sexual harassment, extreme right behaviour, mistreatment of recruits or misuse of chemical agents. Blowing the whistle in the armed forces is particularly difficult due to restrictions imposed on freedom of expression/speech, professional secrecy and national security concerns. Problems are also linked to internal reporting and the respect of the chain of command. But soldiers should be considered as “workers” and deserve the same level of protection as to any other professional categories. The principle of “Citizens in Uniform” should apply, granting the same rights and obligations to soldiers as to any other citizen. Currently, the protection offered to whistleblowers varies across countries and is fragmented.
In 2019, the European addressed the issue of whistleblower protection and adopted a Directive on the “Protection of persons reporting on breaches of Union law”, commonly known as the “Whistleblower Protection Directive”. On 16 December 2019, the Directive entered into force. From this day, EU Member States have two years to transpose the Directive into their national legislation.
While EUROMIL welcomes the adoption of the Whistleblower Protection Directive, it believes the document contains shortfalls that need to be tackled. The main issue of concern for military personnel is the blanket exception on national security. Another worrying issue is the lack of protection provided to whistleblowers who reveal breaches in the public interest on issues of working conditions, non-discrimination as well as occupational health and safety.
Four months before the end of the two years to transpose the Directive into their national legislation, EUROMIL collected the following information from our colleagues in collaboration with the Gender Equality Secretariat of PFEARFU in Greece.
Greek military personnel may contact the Commander of the Unit personally or create a personal report to initiate a sworn administrative inquiry into the case. In any case (for example, if the sworn administrative inquiry does not succeed) complaints can be made to:
- The Military trade unions – Military personnel may turn to PFEARFU which can offer services including counselling and court action whilst supporting the victim moving forward, so that they are protected;
- The National Ombudsman; and
- The National Transparency Authority – This authority body is responsible for everything concerning the State, including the behaviour of employees, and anyone can file a complaint to the body and on the State website at metoogreece.gr (especially for sexual harassment, abuse, verbal and / or physical violence). However, at the Ministry of National Defence, there is no mechanism for complaints of sexual harassment as such. The new national equality action plan is currently being consulted, including the whistleblowing mechanism of the MoD, where PFEARFU will submit proposals.
As representatives of workers in uniform and based on our experience, we quickly realized that although the classic method of complaints (via hierarchical structures) may seem efficient in some cases, other more complex cases often involve procedures that can become far more time-consuming and lack transparency. In addition, fear of possible disciplinary consequences and social outcry are deterrents to whistleblowers. It goes without saying that the whistleblowers’ identity and the sensitive personal data run the risk of being disclosed. Following on from the above mentioned issues, PFEARFU decided to fill these gaps by creating a communication network through local military associations across the country. Thus, the whistleblowers can turn to competent colleagues outside the camps where the complaints will be managed anonymously and confidentially. Each case is dealt with individually, either with the help of experts (sociologists – psychologists), or through legal means in collaboration with law firms. In particular, with regard to issues of gender equality or equality of opportunity, PFEARFU have set up the military secretariat for gender equality, which aims to:
- Protect military personnel from breaches of the law and regulations concerning gender discrimination;
- Protect human rights and ensure compliance with the principle of equal treatment;
- Highlight and develop solutions for issues, for instance, problems of gender equality with substantiated proposals-suggestions; and
- Organize educational and social events, lectures, seminars etc. in order to inform the military personnel about human rights in the Armed Forces.
PFEARFU’s valuable partners in this context are the National Ombudsman and the National General Secretariat for Gender Equality. The ombudsman has undertaken to monitor and promote the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women, both in the private and public sectors. On the other hand, the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, in matters of sexual harassment, holds the position of the governmental body regarding the monitoring, planning and implementation of national gender equality policies and the fight against violence against women.
Through a social dialogue with the MoD, MPs, local governments and other related bodies, PFEARFU are currently trying to establish a stable institutional framework by taking advantage of their existing networks, thus making the processes simple, fast, transparent and efficient.
The legal framework used is:
- National law 3896/2010 – Government Gazette 207 / Α / 8-12-2010 which is based on the DIRECTIVE 2006/54/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation;
- National law 4531/2018 – Government Gazette 62 / Α / 5-4-2018 Ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and adaptation of Greek legislation (Istanbul Convention);
- Convention 190 adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the Workplace, which in conjunction with Convention 206 on Violence and Harassment, constitute a framework for action and contribute to the achievement of decent work, which will not include acts of violence and harassment.
PFEARFU are also in contact, and exchange know-how with the Research Centre for Gender Equality (KETHI) which is a Legal Entity of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (General Government Body) and you can find it in English here.
In summary, EUROMIL would like to emphasize that in the case of Greece, as with a number of other countries, it is clear that the protection of whistleblowers in the Armed Forces is not possible without the assistance of trade unions, which in good cooperation with the MoD, offer realistic solutions that would otherwise be impossible. Confidentiality, anonymity, trustworthiness and personal contact are the cornerstones.
For more information please contact PFEARFU.