Blog – Fair Work and the Volunteer Charter – Anna Fowlie

Fair Work Convention member Anna Fowlie is the Chief Executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) talks about Fair Work and the ten key principles of the Volunteer Charter which help to underpin good relations within a volunteering environment.

Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of the SCVO

SCVO has recently signed up to being a Champion for the Volunteer Charter, and that prompted me to consider how interlinked it is with Fair Work. I’m sure we’ve all seen the media stories about people having to pay to volunteer at a music festival, or being expected to volunteer in jobs where an organisation doesn’t want to pay a wage. On the other hand, we probably have our own experience of being involved in something we love when we are happy to give our skills for free. It can feel like a tangled web, but it boils down to treating people fairly, and those of us committed to Fair Work should actively consider signing up to the Charter as part of that commitment.

The Charter sets out 10 principles of good volunteering practice and is endorsed by the STUC, as well as the voluntary sector.

  1. Any volunteer activity is a freely made choice of the individual. If there is any compulsion, threat of sanctions or force, then any such activity is not volunteering.
  2. Volunteers should receive no financial reward for their time, however out of pocket expenses should be covered. No one should be prevented from volunteering due to their income.
  3. Effective structures should be put in place to support, train and develop volunteers and their collaboration with paid workers.
  4. Volunteers and paid workers should be able to carry out their duties in safe, secure and healthy environments that are free from harassment, intimidation, bullying, violence and discrimination.
  5. Volunteers should not carry out duties formerly carried out by paid workers, nor should they be used to disguise the effects of non-filled vacancies or cuts in services.
  6. Volunteers should not be used instead of paid workers or undercut their pay and conditions of service nor undertake the work of paid workers during industrial disputes.
  7. Volunteers should not be used to reduce contract costs nor be a replacement for paid workers in competitive tenders or procurement processes.
  8. Volunteers should not be used to bypass minimum wage legislation nor generate profit for owners.
  9. Volunteers and paid workers should be given the opportunity to contribute to the development and monitoring of volunteering policies and procedures, including the need for policies that resolve any issues or conflicts that may arise.
  10. Volunteer roles should be designed and negotiated around the needs and interests of volunteers, involving organisations and wider stakeholders. Finding legitimacy and avoiding exploitation through consensus depends on mutual trust and respect.

It’s hard to believe some of this needs to be said, like the first principle, but it’s a sad reality. The second, third and fourth principles feel like the bare minimum that anyone should be able to expect.

Principles 5, 6, 7 and 8 are where I see particular alignment with Fair Work and 9 is remarkably similar to Effective Voice. Volunteers should not be used to paper over the cracks of struggling services, to cover for strike action or avoid statutory employment obligations. Volunteering is not free labour, it’s a mutually beneficial exchange of time, expertise and passion.

The Charter isn’t just important for volunteers. It is about protecting vital paid jobs in the voluntary and public sector, particularly in the current financial climate. The Charter is important for ensuring volunteers have positive experiences, but is equally important for ensuring paid staff who work alongside volunteers have positive experiences too.

You can sign up to be a Champion here, and our friends at Volunteer Scotland would be happy to hear from you if you’d like to find out more.

Anna Fowlie