The protection of volunteers is not adequately covered through the Volunteer Protection Acts. The VP Acts have certain limitations and are not uniform across the country. The VP Acts in some instances, according to such authorities as Myles McGregor Lowndes, work against the interests of volunteering and therefore, by implication, volunteers. There are various pieces of state legislation that do not mention volunteers but where it would be beneficial to their well-being if they did e.g. OH&S. There are a number of anomalies and gaps in the way in which some volunteers are protected/recognised over others e.g workers compensation legislation for some EM volunteers and not others. Many organisations have to take out insurance to cover volunteers in areas that should/could be covered through legislation.
There are many more issues than the ones we have outlined but it seems that the major problems are:
- Volunteers do not have an identified legal status as do other groups e.g paid workers, citizens and are therefore vulnerable in the ‘workplace’
- We are uncertain as to the exact pieces of legislation that do/don’t cover volunteers
- Organisations are not instructed/guided through legislation to treat volunteer staff in a certain way
- Volunteers often bear the financial and other burdens of the consequences of them not being covered by legislation
As a way forward we suggest:
- A mapping of the legislation
- Advocating for a cross jurisdiction committee to look at the amendment of legislation to ensure volunteers are uniformly protected/legally recognised across the country
- Lobby for inclusion of volunteers in every piece of relevant legislation (method to be determined)
- Campaign around the legal rights of volunteers (or lack of if that is the case)
The major action to date has been the Commonwealth and state legislation to protect individual volunteers as “good Samaritans” for public liability insurance reasons. Although not uniform across the country volunteers are legally protected as individuals from being sued as part of a public liability claim.
However, the organisations are not specifically protected and there is no intention for this to occur on the part of the states that have the responsibility. The rights of the individual under the common law to take action are given as the reason.
On another note there is wide ranging legal protection for some volunteers in some organisations and virtually none for others. For example the SES and RFS being formally part of state governments are afforded wide protection, but most volunteers outside these are really left up to their individual organisations. This occurs because of the capacity of the state system to protect the organisation and the individuals.
For the purposes of strategy I believe both the issue of protecting the organisation against public liability and wider legal protection of volunteers should be taken up.
Legal Protection – Key Performance Indicators
- Mapping all legislation covering and relating to Emergency Management volunteers
- Develop a campaign to redress a “rights” anomaly for one group/sector (quick wins)
- Identify major pieces of legislation which need amendment
- Commence a campaign to amend legislation to ensure proper legal protection for all Emergency Management volunteers