February 23, 2014
Good News, Bad News
Two items referring to volunteering turned up in my news reading this past week. One cast a slur on the meaning of ‘volunteer’ and the other described volunteers as ‘committed staff’.
The bad news story is about a man who drove a pub’s courtesy van and undertook other tasks on request from staff. He was paid $50 per shift, but did not have an employment contract despite repeated requests. The hotel’s new owner decided the man’s services were no longer required and a text message was sent to that effect. However, our man took his case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to claim unpaid wages and compensation for unfair dismissal. The hotel owner argued the man was “just a lonely elderly volunteer”.
To be dismissive of volunteers in this way is enough to start a protest march, a vigil outside the hotel, or a boycott of the pub’s services. Or all three! The protest can be generated on several counts:
- Nobody is ever ‘just a volunteer’
- Not all volunteers are lonely and elderly
- Neither are all older volunteers lonely
- Not to mention demonstrably shoddy HR practice
There is a good ending to this story. The ERA decided our man was a regular on-call casual employee: he was paid regularly for regular work days and he answered to a manager. The dismissal was found to be unjustified and monetary compensation duly awarded.
I am hoping that the hotel’s owner will heed two important messages from this experience. Firstly, volunteer work is not to be taken lightly: it is an honourable commitment that should be valued regardless of age and status. Secondly, and possibly more important, is the fair and professional practice of HR management. Volunteers and paid workers might be simply the labour inputs for a business, but employers need to apply a duty of care to both those resources.
The next story offers much better news. The International Rugby Sevens was hosted in Wellington a couple of weeks ago, an annual party event that has been going on for fifteen years. This year misbehaviour and drunkenness by a small proportion of the crowd got more media attention than New Zealand’s team carrying off another tournament win. Yet the event was still counted a success, attributed to “300 committed staff … the vast majority of them volunteers”. There speaks a manager who understands the parity status of paid employees and volunteers. He adds:
“All of them are dedicated to our values – being passionate about Wellington; delivering excellence (which includes learning from our mistakes) and teamwork.”
There will be many managers of volunteers who can applaud the people they work with for the similar qualities. Wouldn’t it be great if more organisations could proclaim equal status on these grounds for volunteers and their paid staff?