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Coalition concerned about ‘fate’ of voluntary work under new WHS laws

Release Date

15 February 2012

Coalition concerned about ‘fate’ of voluntary work under new WHS laws


The Federal Opposition correctly predicted that the harmonised Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws would destroy the tradition of voluntary work in Australia by turning volunteers into workers, claims Senator Mitch Fifield, the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector.

‘Local sports clubs, scout groups, surf lifesaving clubs and community organisations will now be burdened by strict regulations accompanied by harsh punishments for non-compliance,’ he said.

‘In November last year, the Coalition’s spokesman on workplace relations, Senator Eric Abetz, raised concerns in the Parliament about the effects on the voluntary sector of Labor’s Work Health and Safety Bill. Yet Labor failed to address those concerns.'

‘A chilling effect’


According to Fifield, Australian volunteers are now to be considered as workers in the eyes of the law, meaning they are liable to incur severe fines and prison sentences ‘if Labor’s OH&S red tape is breached’.

‘Labor’s legislation is likely to lead to a chilling effect in the voluntary sector, whereby people will give up existing volunteer work or choose not to ever begin volunteering in the first place,’ he said.

‘In the wake of the Queensland floods last year, dozens of ordinary Queenslanders packed a mop and bucket into their car and headed out to help already established emergency services with the clean up effort.’

‘Labor’s OH&S laws could well dampen such spontaneous movements towards volunteerism such as the mud army.’

‘We now have a situation where under the harmonised laws, for example, a Meals on Wheels volunteer could be fined up to $300,000 or jailed for five years due to non-compliance with Labor regulation in their voluntary work.’

Less red tape promised, but volunteers assaulted

Fifield said that the harmonised WHS legislation ‘makes a mockery’ of the Federal Government’s ‘supposed commitment’ under the National Compact agreement to reduce the red tape burden on the voluntary sector.

‘It is no surprise that the Gillard Government waited until after 2011, the Ten Year Anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, to implement this assault on volunteers,’ he said.

‘Unlike Labor, the Coalition has constantly supported policies that will help rather than hinder the voluntary sector.’

At the 2010 election, the Coalition proposed AUSCORPS, a program which would give university students a discount on their HELP debt in recognition of voluntary work in order to encourage a new generation of volunteers.

Fed Govt taking ‘common sense’ approach to criticism


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said the Federal Government is taking a ‘common sense approach’ to addressing concerns the harmonised WHS laws burden the voluntary sector.

‘We are continuing arrangements where there are safety expectations for the treatment of volunteers, and volunteer organisations know that and go out of their way to make sure that they keep their volunteers safe,’ she told journalists during a press conference on Tuesday.
‘If you look at organisations like the SES (State Emergency Service), they train and train and train and train for safety. Now our approach has been endorsed by the peak body for volunteers, Volunteering Australia.’

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