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Equal Opportunity Act To Extend to Victorian Volunteers

22 December 2009 at 10:28 am
Staff Reporter
The proposed changes to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act extends coverage to volunteers

Staff Reporter | 22 December 2009 at 10:28 am


Equal Opportunity Act To Extend to Victorian Volunteers
22 December 2009 at 10:28 am
In Victoria, the Brumby Government has proposed amending the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA) to cover individual volunteers as well as those engaged by volunteer organisations.

However, Volunteering Victoria says this proposal raises significant training and governance issues.

Victorian Premier John Brumby

In 2007 the Victorian Government appointed Julian Gardner to look at the EOA, and his 2008 report recommended that volunteering work be included under the relevant definitions of employees, employer and employment. Volunteers become employees, for the purposes of the EOA.

Volunteering Victoria says that this means that volunteer involving organisations now become employers in relation to volunteers as well as paid staff. For those volunteer involving organisations who don’t have paid staff but have volunteers, they will become employers covered by the EOA and will need to comply with the EOA in their treatment of volunteers. 

It says this is a major change with significant implications.

Recently the Department of Justice (DoJ) began consulting stakeholders about these proposed changes. Volunteering Victoria has taken an active role in helping DoJ understand the challenges in the implementation and operation of the proposed amendments.


Volunteering Victoria says few would deny that volunteers deserve equal opportunity. Volunteers also deserve effective protection under the law. 

The proposed amendments will make discrimination on the basis of a listed attribute unlawful, when a volunteer worker applies for volunteer work. It will also outlaw offering a person worse terms because of the “attribute” covered by the EOA.

What will this mean for volunteer involving organisations (VIO) is that volunteers will be covered in the same manner paid staff are. This will apply to VIO with no paid staff. Simply, volunteers, for the purpose of the EOA, will become workers.

Volunteering Victoria has already raised a number of scenarios with DoJ that make the application of proposed changes potentially complicated: for instance where there are 10 volunteers, seven on the management committee (who also do work) and the rest just doing work. Who are the employers and who are the employees? What if the association is unincorporated? What constitutes employment? If I put out the cones at Little Athletics am I “employed”?

Volunteering Victoria says these complications boil down to the questions who is employing and what work is employment. There are clear issues of implementation that impact on governance, resources, states of knowledge and a range of issues that demonstrate to the mismatch of resources between volunteer-only organisations and employer organisations (which to a great extent is based on absence of funding).

It says the proposals also extend “vicarious liability” to volunteers. This means that VIO could be responsible for breaches of the EOA committed by a volunteer. However with careful governance and management procedures this liability can be avoided by proper training, good written policies and effective monitoring and complaints mechanisms. The issue then is resources.

There are a range of exemptions from the application of EOA provisions. They relate mainly to the situation where  "it would be an unreasonable burden on the organisation to be required to make the required adjustments for workers with an impairment provision of some kinds of personal services delivered in a person’s home there is a relevant religious exemption."

Volunteering Victoria says these exemptions are complex and specific in their application, and do not solve the issues that arise from the issues about definitions. The exemptions are also under review, but they do allow some rationale-based flexibility.

Volunteering Victoria will be looking to make submissions to government about the implementation and operational issues, including the resourcing and training of VIOs to deal with the changes. 

James Wilson, Volunteering Victoria's Policy and Advocacy Officer says he will be meeting with the Justice department in January and will report back to the sector on the outcome of those discussions.

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