New whistle-blower encouragement programme prepared by the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKIK)

UOKiK has launched a pilot programme designed to encourage whistle-blowers acting in good faith and public interest, to come forward.  Anyone who is aware of competition-restricting practices such as price-fixing arrangements, contingent collusions, bid-rigging schemes, market allocation or consumer group schemes, can notify the competition authority anonymously.  Notifications can be sent by post to the address indicated on the UOKiK website, to the dedicated e-mail (sygnalista@uokik.gov.pl) or over the phone (+22 55 60 500).  In special situations when the information provided concerns the activities of the employer or a contractor and the whistle-blower fears that their identity could be revealed, UOKiK suggests the option of making the notification through an intermediary (attorney, legal counsel, or a trusted person) or in person, during an anonymous visit to UOKiK.

 

Protection of whistle-blowers

The technical aspects of anonymous notifications aside, the issue of protection afforded to whistle-blowers still remains unresolved.  At present, it is not legally sanctioned – in practice, the employees of UOKiK just refrain from determining the whistle-blower’s ID.

From the viewpoint of whistle-blowers themselves, protection against discriminating practices and various forms of prejudice are of key importance. Among the most common forms of repressions there are: dismissal, lack of promotion or pay rise, refusal of training courses, refusal to extend the employment contract, not to mention exclusion in workplace and local community.

According to the information provided on UOKiK website, authorities are working on legislative changes designed to ensure that the concept of a whistle-blower and its protection is properly regulated. Providing adequate protection is needed, because parties to proceedings have access to evidence material and case files which makes identification of whistle-blowers relatively easy without disclosure of personal data.

The relevant regulations are already in force in Germany, Slovakia or Hungary.  For instance, based on the approach adopted in France under Sapin II, a wide range of whistle-blower protection mechanisms are available (from precise definition of a whistle-blower, through a ban on direct and indirect discrimination, to the obligation of evidencing  in court that potential dismissal of the whistle-blower is unconnected with the notification made to the authorities).

Intensified UOKiK control

According to the President of UOKiK, raising the collusion detection rate is the authority’s primary objective. Following legislative changes increase of the rates of detecting anti-monopoly law infringements can be expected.

The sooner enterprises and their CEOs take actions to mitigate the risk of breaching competition laws, the better.  Pecuniary penalties provided for infringement of such laws are high.  For enterprises, the fines may amount up to 10% of the turnover of the year preceding the year of issuing the relevant decision, whereas for natural persons they may equal up to PLN 2 million (for both current and former employees).

A crucial aspect of ensuring compliance with competition protection laws is to identify the spheres of the enterprise’s business that are most susceptible to such breaches, and institute adequate control and management mechanisms.  Increasing the employees’ awareness of the threats that arise from breaking the law and proactive building of the organizational culture to promote ethical behaviour and responsible business dealings are equally important.

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