Confusion for volunteers
Exemptions in the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill could cause considerable confusion down the track, Volunteering New Zealand (VNZ) said today.
The Government announced some exemptions for school and hobby club volunteers yesterday. Karen Roberts, National Development Manager, for VNZ, said she was concerned that writing exemptions into law for specific groups would backfire.
“There are thousands of volunteers working throughout New Zealand. To slip in exemptions for any group at this stage is a concern. All volunteers should get some protection – how can we insist that an employee has a raft of health and safety protections, but exempt a volunteer working alongside them?”
“We are concerned that some groups have managed to get exemptions, while others have not. We would prefer to see anything to do with volunteers excluded from the Act. We could then have a consultation process before we leap into the law books.”
“We have been in discussion with politicians to try and find solutions to the anxiety this legislation has caused. If it must go through we will be calling for a comprehensive information programme and resources must be made available to organisations that will be struggling to meet the requirements of the legislation,” Ms Roberts said.
Attached: VNZ’s alternative options
Volunteering New Zealand
Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill – Background Information
Volunteering New Zealand believes the amendments are fundamentally flawed, will cause more problems than they will alleviate, and will cause considerable anxiety and concern throughout the voluntary sector.
The main issues of concern are:
Definition of Volunteer.
The internationally recognised definition of a volunteer is one who does work which is
Done of one’s own free will
For the common good.
We believe that this is the only definition that should be used and that the government should mandate the use of this definition in this and all future policy/legislative work concerning volunteers.
Definition of Financial gain.
Volunteer contribution of any sort can be interpreted as having a positive impact on the financial viability of the organisation. “Financial gain” is open to interpretation and it would take case law to test and set the boundaries of this definition. We feel it should be removed from the amendments.
Inconsistency of coverage
In principle volunteers should be covered by health and safety legislation. Exemptions in the amendments creates uncertainty and inconsistency. There is not reason to exclude any type of volunteer, or volunteers who work in organisations that employ no paid staff.
The potential cost of complying with the legislation is of major concern to voluntary organisations.
There is a high level of anxiety in the sector as a result of lack of consultation, inconsistency between different arms of government in relation to volunteering policy, misinformation due to poor processes, and insufficient information.
Loss of volunteers- both current and future
This legislation will impact on the ability of organisations to involve volunteers because
the organisations may be unable to adequately meet the requirements of the act (if they can work out what these requirements are and if they apply to them or not)
b) volunteers may not be prepared to take personal risks in relation to convictions and fines
We see 4four options:
Leave the amendments as proposed. This does not address any of the issues identified above.
Leave the amendments as proposed and further narrow those volunteers to whom the legislation applies. This partly addresses issues 4, 5 and 6.
Take a broader approach and cover all volunteers with no exemptions. This would involve: using the international definition of “volunteer”
extending coverage to all who fall within that definition and who volunteer through an organisation which is a distinct legal entity, and
leaving the responsibilities that apply in respect of volunteers as those in sections 6-12, 19 and 25 (as per the current amendments). This would address issues 1, 2 and 3.
Defer or delete the proposed amendments related to volunteers, to be consulted on and discussed further and reintroduced at a later date. This would address, or give the opportunity to address, all 6 issues in a comprehensive manner.
We believe that option 4 would most benefit the sector as a whole and would provide the best legislative outcome in the long term.
We believe that, given this, the next best option is option 3 which would clarify the definition of volunteers, provide consistency, and ensure the welfare of all volunteers is acknowledged. In conjunction with the two additional measures below this would address 5 of the 6 issues.
The option of covering the Health and Safety of Volunteers outside of employment legislation should also be explored.
In whatever form it takes, for the legislation to have wide acceptance and understanding there is a need to implement an information campaign that will reach the wider sector including the smaller grass roots organisations that make up the majority of the voluntary sector. This would assist in addressing issue 5.
The potential cost of compliance with this legislation (in whatever form) is one of the major obstacles facing organisations. It would be prudent for assistance to be offered to organisations that will face an increase in costs to meet the requirements of the amendments. This would assist in addressing issue 4.
Karen Roberts Nick Toonen