As predicted by the Coalition, Labor’s new OH&S laws have turned volunteers into workers, effectively destroying the tradition of Australian volunteerism as we know it.
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.
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.
Australian volunteers are now to be considered as workers in the eyes of the law, liable to 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.
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.
The Gillard Government have claimed that they will reduce the red tape burden on not-for-profits, and promised to work constructively with the sector through their much-hyped National Compact with the not-for-profit sector.
This legislation makes a mockery of their supposed commitment to the 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.
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.
Maybe Minister Butler could explain how this new hit on volunteers fits in with his ‘social inclusion’ agenda.