November 17, 2013

Shifting Focus

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism tagged , , at 3:35 am by Sue Hine

neler oluyor3[1]Sometimes we can hang on to old mantras and take them for granted.   ‘Thou shalt not replace paid workers with volunteers’: of course, I’ve known that for years!  Put volunteers into former paid positions and you are exploiting unpaid labour, not to mention engaging the ire (or worse) of unions and other paid staff.   So it’s a no-no, no question.

And then I encounter a situation that causes a rethink, a consideration of how hard and fast those principles really need to be.  I have been asked if a volunteer is available to cover for an administration employee on sick leave.  I ask questions about what happens when other staff go on leave, and isn’t there a pool of casual staff to call on, and why now, and don’t you know volunteers do not replace paid staff, period.  I feel uncomfortable, because it’s a short term assignment, it’s helping the organisation over a difficulty, and there are volunteers well able and available to undertake the tasks.

That’s when I start searching for confirmation on this business of not replacing paid staff with volunteers.  There is nothing in Codes of Ethics on management of volunteers, nor in Codes of Practice.  Nowhere do I find a clause referring to job substitution.  So is the ban on replacing paid staff with volunteers merely a convention?

At last I find a reference in the Government Policy on Volunteering (2002), in which the Government recognises that “volunteers should not replace paid workers”.  Note the government merely recognises, and should does not signify a legal requirement.  There is more in Guidelines for Appropriate Volunteer Positions, describing ‘factors which tend to make involvement of volunteers appropriate / inappropriate’.  As a steer on volunteer encroachment into paid employment territory the clauses are pretty much common sense, and again not cast-iron regulation.

So I cast my search net beyond a New Zealand context and land some pretty good fish.

Susan J Ellis asks pertinent questions like “Who is making rules about what is and isn’t legitimate volunteer work—and on what grounds?”  And what about the obverse to staff displacement: “When and how is it legitimate to place employees into roles traditionally held by volunteers?”  We don’t think about that too often.

There’s a bunch of myths around job substitution by volunteers, says this UK article.   We all know the involvement of volunteers should complement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service.  But when times are tough and loss of funding causes staff cuts, engaging volunteers to fill the gaps is replacing staff, not displacement.

If you still have doubts there’s a guide to avoiding job substitution, describing a process to be followed.  Or take in this UK report on the health and social care sector: the authors conclude that rather than thinking of volunteering as a means for cutting costs, providers of all kinds should focus on volunteering as a means of improving quality by resourcing volunteer management appropriately.  Now there’s a good steer for action!

It looks like my concerns about a volunteer covering for staff are better answered through a strategic vision and policy on volunteering.   When we have constructive relations between paid staff and volunteers (and the manager of volunteers), when the volunteer programme is integrated with wider services of the organisation, and when volunteer contributions are understood and appreciated for the added value they bring – then we will have no need to follow advice that begins  “Thou shalt not….”.

That’s what I call a shift in focus, turning negativity into positive direction.

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