MKs seek protection for whistle-blowers

State Control Committee chairman Orlev prepares bill giving the state comptroller power to grant protection to whistle-blowers in labor unions.

zevulun orlev 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
zevulun orlev 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Knesset State Control Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev on Wednesday blasted the head of the National Federation of Workers (NFW), Yoav Kimhi, for refusing to attend a meeting meant to discuss the dismissal of alleged whistle-blower Ma'ayan Agam. Agam, who worked for the NFW for more than six years, was fired on October 7. The NFW management maintains that it dismissed her because she was a poor worker. Agam argues that she was fired because she reported instances of corruption to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. According to Aharon Erlinger, a senior official in the State Comptroller's Office, one of the allegations Agam made led to the criminal investigation of former finance minister Avraham Hirchson and other senior NFW office-holders on charges of stealing NIS 14 million from the organization and one of its auxiliary institutions, Nili. Lindenstrauss said current law prevented him from issuing a protection order to prevent the federation's firing Agam, because his right to issue them did not apply to workers' unions. "We cannot issue a protection order because of the law," he told the committee. "Otherwise, I would have done so immediately. I would like to use the honor and reputation of this committee to call on the federation to reinstate her." Agam told the committee many poor union members had asked her to reduce their membership fees. "My superiors told me they could not, that it was the law," she said. "These people pay out of their bread money. At the same time, management spends money on expensive renovations of their offices, trips abroad and luxury cars." Agam charged that union management had imposed "a reign of fear and oppression, which included monitoring [the workers'] activities." She said other workers had begun writing complaints to her about corruption they had witnessed in the federation. She sent these letters, without names, to the state comptroller. Within a short while, the office began to investigate. According to Lindenstrauss, other matters mentioned in the letters were also under police investigation. Meanwhile, Agam joined forces with rivals to the existing management during a recent election campaign, which the rivals won. She said she had been active in the campaign and become very close to Kimhi. After his victory, she said, he had appointed her as one of his personal assistants. However, when she told him she had organized the complaints to the state comptroller, he allegedly distanced himself from her, gave her a different job and eventually fired her, Agam said. NFW director-general Ya'ir Shalem said there had been no connection between the decision to fire her and the information she had given the state comptroller. At the end of the meeting, Orlev announced that the committee would prepare a bill giving the state comptroller, in his capacity as ombudsman, the power to grant protection to whistle-blowers in the labor unions.