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Labour market

Short-term employment threatens whistleblowers

Published fredag 27 april 2012 kl 16.01
"They're afraid to criticise their employers"
(5:26 min)

Short-term employment is on the rise and it may have an adverse effect on people who report wrongdoings either to the media or to their employer, critics say.

In Sweden, no whistleblower in the public sector can be reprimanded by his or her employer. Still, not everyone who reports wrongdoings is treated favourably.

Radio Sweden spoke to a woman who, until February this year, worked as an accountant at a large municipality in Stockholm.

She was employed on a six-month trial contract when she found instances of improper accounting and reimbursement for expenses.

"Is there anything more important than handling tax money correctly? I promised in my job interview that I would report any problems," she says. "At first I wanted to speak to my supervisors to discuss these issues, but the doors were shut."

The municipal accountant says that her two bosses publicly applauded her for coming forward with the information. But her six-month trial contract was never renewed. She believes reporting wrongdoings cost her the job.

Temporary employment is on the rise in Sweden, but what does mean for people who discover problems at their workplace?

Samuel Engblom from the Confederation for Professional Employees says that short-term employment offers whistleblowers less protection than employees on open-ended contracts.

"If you take a person on a temporary contract, let's say contract for six months, usually their best chance to get a new job is to extend that same contract. If that person then goes public with something they have seen that and perceive as wrong, then of course the employer will not give you another contract," he says.

On the other hand, the Confederation for Swedish Enterprise, an umbrella group representing Swedish businesses, believes that temporary employment is a way to get young people into the labour market.

Samuel Engblom with the trade unions says that short-term contracts can also be needed to fill in for people on parental leave, or if an employee wants to try a new job for a fixed period of time.

"But the problem arises when these are used in a way where the same person will stay on a temp contract year after year," Engblom says.

"These people often become rather afraid employees, they're afraid to criticise their employers. That will results in a working life that is more quiet," he says.

Sweden's justice ministry is now investigating the protections available for whistleblowers. But Per Bill of the Moderate party admits that even after the investigation is done, people employed on short-term contracts may still be in a weaker position to report wrongdoings.

"Even when we have created this new bill in a few years and passed it through the Swedish parliament, I still think that people who are on short-term contracts will always be a bit more hesitant to reveal problems," Per Bill says.

The municipal accountant is now unemployed and worries that she will struggle to find a job. She has a letter of reference from the municipality where she reported the wrongdoings – but the letter says nothing favourable about her role as an employee.

"I had to bargain with myself and define the limits of my conscience. I decided that if I, as an accountant, don't say anything, who will then report these things?" the woman says.

"I had no choice. I am of course worried about my future, but I don't regret it. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror."

By Sven Hultberg Carlsson

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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