Benefit fraud

Whistleblowing anti-fraud mailbox dubbed “Stalinist” by labor unions

New website which allows public to "shop a benefit cheat" met with anger

Labor minister, Fátima Báñez. EFE/Archivo
Labor minister, Fátima Báñez. EFE/ArchivoEFE

Two of Spain's largest labor unions, the CCOO and the UGT, have both condemned the proposed creation of an online whistleblowing facility that the government says will allow employees to report their bosses for abusing laws. Labor Minister Fátima Báñez announced earlier this week that from now on members of the public will be able to go to the ministry's website to report instances of fraud without the need to supply their name.

The move has been called "a dangerous idea" by the union representatives, with the CCOO condemning the plans as something worthy of a totalitarian state.

For the administration, José Ignacio Sacristán, the director general of Work and Social Security Inspection, defended the plans, saying: "You have to realize that other public organisms and public institutions receive information from citizens every day and sometimes they investigate them and sometimes they discard them."

He pointed out that the system could be used to report clandestine workshops, illegal employment, poor working conditions, inequality and discrimination, as well as other violations such as sexual harassment.

He argued it was "paradoxical" that the same groups who have criticized the precarious nature of labor conditions, citing a fear of reporting employers, now oppose these plans that offer workers the possibility to make accusations from a position of safety.

British model

The program resembles one run in the UK, where citizens can report benefit cheats through the Department of Work and Pensions website or via a hotline. A similar system is operated in the US through the United Council on Welfare Fraud.

The British scheme is generally well-supported in the country's press, which regularly runs stories on "welfare cheats." Last year benefit fraud convictions in the UK rose by over 40 percent, thanks partly to the fact that officials had new evidence-gathering powers.

But in Spain, members of the public were quick to criticize the whistleblowing scheme this week on EL PAÍS's website, pointing to allegations of fraud and impropriety in the government's own ranks.

One reader, Luis Miguel, said "I report Mrs Work Minister for manifest incompetence in her post." Another, luis1943, accused the ruling Popular Party (PP) of being "Stalinists." One reader under the alias of Pelipep argued that "There has been a mountain of reports where people have accused the PP of corruption. I encourage people to get on the page and do it!"

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