Justice Connect and Volunteering Victoria unite to call for better and fairer laws for volunteers

19 Oct 2018

Media release

19 October 2018

Justice Connect and Volunteering Victoria are today calling on all parties standing in the upcoming Victorian election to commit to improving laws for volunteers and the community organisations they work with.

“Nearly a million Victorians volunteer their time and effort each year, hoping to make a contribution to a stronger, more vibrant community. That’s nearly one in five of us,” said Sue Woodward, Justice Connect’s head of Not-for-profit Law.

Three areas that both organisations highlight as critically important are:

  1. Victoria working with other jurisdictions to ensure a nationally consistent Working With Children Check scheme, in line with the recommendations from the Working With Children Check Report 2015 (Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse)

The working with children check scheme applies differently in each state and territory, which causes headaches particularly for community groups engaging volunteers outside Victoria.

  1. Protecting volunteers from discrimination through amendments to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act

Currently, volunteers do not have the same protection from discrimination as paid workers.

  1. Ensuring that protections under the Victorian Wrongs Act apply equally to all forms of unpaid work.

While previous law reform provided important protections from civil liability for traditional volunteers, other types of unpaid workers (for example, Work for the Dole, mutual obligation activities and court-order volunteering) may still be open to legal liability for any harm they cause while carrying out their duties.

These changes would make the law clearer and more consistent so all volunteers and unpaid workers have equal protection from discrimination and legal liability, and so volunteer managers spend less time on the administration that results from confusing and inconsistent laws.

These priorities are part of an effort with Volunteering Victoria to promote a vibrant volunteering community that is inclusive, respected and sustainable and are outlined in the Volunteering Victoria 2018 State Election Priorities. 

“At times it is unclear how the law applies to volunteers and what legal responsibilities there are for volunteer-involving organisations. Getting the legal and policy foundations right is essential for not-for-profit organisations to build and sustain their volunteering programs,” said Ms Woodward.

“Given volunteering is one of the most important means of participating in our communities and the workforce, every effort needs to be made to ensure that no one is left out and that managers of volunteers are fully equipped to support volunteers to make an impact,” said Scott Miller, Chief Executive of Volunteering Victoria.

“Regardless of which party leads Victoria later this year, we know they believe in communities coming together to make themselves stronger. We look forward to working with any government to that end, and we hope that all parties will make these small commitments before November 24,” said Ms Woodward.