Australia leads the way on volunteer rights

As some of you know my last ‘proper’ job was as a director at Volunteering England where the last big project I was involved in was leading the secretariat for the Volunteer Rights Inquiry. This 18-month project was the first attempt anywhere in the world to try to analyse the issues behind often high profile instances of volunteers and organisations falling out, such as those that took place at York Citizens Advice Bureau (and the subsequent fallout from that situation) a few years ago.

Almost two years ago, in one of my first blogs for Third Sector, I asked if the time was right to take forward the work of the inquiry and really start to address the issues around volunteer rights. Since then I’ve written on my own blog analysing the slow progress of this important issue and exploring the potential implications of legal solutions. I’ve also read new stories of disputes between volunteers and organisations, as well as receiving correspondence myself from aggrieved volunteers asking for help and advice.

The sad truth is that despite the hard work and commitment of the members of the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, the momentum we developed has been lost. All that remains is a page on the Volunteering England website summarising the work, outlining the subsequent 3R promise and listing those organisations who are to be commended for signing up to it. The Call To Action Progress group that was to monitor and direct the work going forward seems to have been quietly dropped and none of those signatory organisations to the 3R Promise are being assessed for progress (or lack of it) they have made.

So I was really pleased to read that colleagues in Australia are taking action on the issue of Volunteer Rights that puts us here in the UK to shame.

According to a report in the Australian Third Sector magazine, a working group has been established “to determine whether there are similar issues affecting volunteer rights here in Australia, as have been revealed in the UK”. Members include Volunteering Australia, all state volunteering peak bodies and a number of Volunteer Resource Centres. Together they have established a national database of “rights violations or inappropriate treatment” so the nature and scope of issues can be assessed along with the management and handling of complaints made by volunteers.

I think this is fantastic news and want to publicly commend our Australian colleagues for this initiative. I can recall their enthusiasm for the work of the Volunteer Rights Inquiry and I’m pleased that have taken this forward with real action. This is despite them facing the same challenges everyone else faces such as cuts to budgets – Volunteering Australia, for example, has lost all its paid staff due to government funding cuts and so is much more resource-strapped than Volunteering England.

It just goes to show that where there is a will, there is a way. Sadly there seems to be little or no will around this in the UK, but I hope that as this work develops in Australia that might one day change.

One Response to “Australia leads the way on volunteer rights”

  1. Wally Harbert

    I am not sure I want rights for volunteers.

    Some of them are treated appallingly but if we try to underpin good volunteer/staff relationships with legal or semi legal rights we fundamentally change the nature of those relationships.

    That is not to deny the importance of codes of practice and avenues through which volunteers can voice dissatisfaction.

    The best precaution against poor practice is free speech and a free press. Anything else risks turning volunteering into an imitation of employment where trust is replaced by bureaucratic systems.


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