No place for exploitation in volunteering

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20th February 2019 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Trade unions and the third sector have pledged to protect the workplace rights of volunteers.

A charter agreed by Volunteer Scotland and the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) was unveiled at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ (SCVO) Gathering event Glasgow’s SECC.

It sets out key principles which help to underpin good relations in volunteering and safeguards against exploitation.

This follows a row over the alleged mass exploitation of volunteers at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations in 2017, where event organisers Underbelly advertised for 300 unpaid positions at the world famous end of year bash.

It wanted people to work for free as “ambassadors” and dancers.

However, anti-exploitation and low pay group Better Than Zero said a private company asking people to put in a shift for nothing is "morally unacceptable” – and was backed by trade unions and politicians.

This crystalised a need for the voluntary sector and unions to find common ground which preserves the spirit of volunteering while closing the door on exploitation.

Volunteer Scotland and the STUC said they are committed to the free association and community spirit that motivates trade unionism and community action across Scotland.

Organisations that recruit volunteers in place of workers or that arrange unpaid activities to enhance employment prospects, undermine genuine volunteering, which is nurtured by strong and supportive networks, solidarity, and community spirit.

George Thomson, chief executive of Volunteer Scotland, said: “Volunteering is freely undertaken, is not based on any form of employment contract and is not for financial gain; it involves the commitment of time and energy for the benefit of society and the community.

“Volunteering should also create a feeling of collectiveness which reinforces social connections. The involvement of volunteers should add value to and support the work of paid staff and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service."

Dave Moxham, assistant general secretary of the STUC, said: “The employment landscape in 2019 is very different. The labour market is now characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs.

“Instead of a regular wage, more workers are on low hour insecure contracts or get paid for the "gigs" they do, such as food delivery or as a courier. In the UK it's estimated that five million people are employed in this type of capacity."

Claire Peden, STUC Young Workers' Project co-ordinator and Better Than Zero organiser, added: "Changes in the labour market, new technologies, or employment policies are sometimes manipulated to entice volunteers with promises of future work or increased employability, which is often described as a form of community benefit. These suspect motives tend to signal instances of illegitimate volunteering, and the charter is intended to help identify cases of volunteering misuse."   

Welcoming the publication of the charter, communities secretary Aileen Campbell said: "It is absolutely essential that volunteers, who are giving up their own free time and making a vital contribution to their communities are being treated fairly and know they are being valued.  

“It is great to see Volunteer Scotland and the STUC working together on this new joint Volunteer Charter to support valuable volunteering opportunities and ensure good relationships between volunteers and workers."