Volunteers – In a Pickle
The Conservatives’ latest whimper from their Big Society study group – or what ever it is that thinks up these ideas – would be worrying if it was not so contradictory.
Under the Conservatives’ volunteering plans, a new law would be passed requiring public sector employers and companies with more than 250 employees to give staff up to three days a year to do voluntary work.
Employers would cover the cost.
BBC News Website 10 April 2015 : Election 2015: Cameron pledges ‘paid volunteering leave’
This is deeply “unconservative” and rather undermines the idea of people “giving their time to good causes”.
Mr Cameron said the proposal was “the clearest demonstration of the Big Society in action” and represented a “double win” for employees and communities.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the move would “enhance productivity” but suggested that employers worried about the impact it would have on their operations would be able to opt out.
“Nobody is forcing anyone to volunteer. Nobody is forcing companies to organise this volunteering if it causes problems to the company,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Compared to all the noise and bluster about “Big Society” 5 years ago – and what has happened since, this last minute proposal seems rather meek. Especially when you start to dissect the proposal:
- “a new law would be passed requiring public sector employers and companies with more than 250 employees” (Cameron)
- “employers worried about the impact it would have on their operations would be able to opt out” (Pickles)
There is a contradiction there – I’m sure of it!
- “to give staff up to three days a year to do voluntary work.” (Cameron)
- “Nobody is forcing companies to organise this volunteering if it causes problems to the company” (Pickles)
Cameron did not seem to be saying that legislation would do anything other than require companies to give staff time off (although how it is policed is not yet clear). Yet Pickles has to say that companies won’t be forced to organise this volunteering. Was Pickles fearful that this proposal would lead to Maoist style “works trips to the fields to bring in the harvest”?
Pickles however seems to think that flexibility goes much further than many may anticipate.
“We expect people to have a bit of give-and-take on this as we expect people to have a bit of give-and-take with regard to annual leave.” …
“It would be worked out according to patterns of work and would be worked out to ensure it did not cause inconvenience” …
He added: “It is no different from annual leave.
So annual leave is no different from this volunteering leave – employers can opt out of giving it (any of it) “if inconvenient”?
That’s a bit scary – but perhaps Mr Pickles (out neighbours once had a dog called Mister Pickles – a toy poodle that wee’d everywhere) is struggling to stay “on message” as Tory Head Office spouts spurious promises. Let’s hope so.
If “big society” is to work it should mean individuals feeling engaged with society and wanting to make a contribution. That contribution should be voluntary and not subject to any form of legislative coercion – and should be “extra” and not undermining existing provision. Government’s role surely is to ensure that there is a society with which we wish to be engaged. They are not doing very well.
Labour’s civil society spokeswoman Lisa Nandy said.
She added that there was “no sense” of how the public sector could fund the pledge, saying: “If just half of public sector workers took this up it would be the time equivalent of around 2,000 nurses, 800 police and almost 3,000 teachers.”
52 Weeks per year
4 weeks annual holiday (unless Pickles let’s employers “opt out”)
8 Statutory holidays (public sector often has extra holidays)
Leaves 232 Gross Working days
3 days a year sickness – approx average
5 days a year training
1 day a year on company briefings, “tell & sells”
Leaving 223 Net Working days – before volunteering
so 3 “Volunteering days” represents about 1½% of available working time
This is “an extra burden” on “hard pressed” “employers” – surely?
And if involving your employees on volunteering makes them more motivated surely employers will already be doing this.
Will the NHS make up this shortfall by offering volunteering opportunities?