Equal Opportunity Bill to Impact Volunteering
25 March 2010 at 11:06 am
The Equal Opportunity Bill released in Victoria this week has an important concession to the needs of volunteering organisations while posing some critical challenges for the future, according to Volunteering Victoria.
The umbrella organisation says the definitional changes, which have potentially the greatest impact on volunteering, will not commence until 1 July 2012, allowing more than two years to prepare for what will be a significant challenge.
Volunteering Victoria was asked for comments during the process of completing the draft Equal Opportunity Bill late in 2009. However, the Bill was not passed by Parliament at the time.
The key changes proposed were that volunteering work is to be included, rather excluded as is current law, under the relevant definitions of employees, employer and employment in the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (EOA). Volunteers become employees and volunteer-involving organisations (whether or not they have paid staff or just volunteers) become employees, for the purposes of the EOA.
Some other key provisions of the Bill that impact on volunteering are:
- The definitions of both direct and indirect discrimination have been simplified
- There is a new (clearer) duty to make “reasonable adjustments” for persons with an impairment, including reasonable alterations to common property. This is a stand alone duty, meaning a failure to meet this duty is, on its own, a contravention of the EOA
- Extension of powers of investigation of the Victorian Human Rights Commission to include the power to investigate contravention of the law on its own decision- i.e. without a complaint being filed. This power is limited in effect to contraventions which affect a number of people
- There is a new positive duty to proactively prevent discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation, and the Victorian Human Rights Commission may investigate a failure to do this
- Vicarious liability can simply be described as “your employee contravenes the law and your organisation is held responsible” (they do, you pay). Vicarious liability for breaches of the EOA has long been a part of the EOA but will now apply to volunteer involving organisations.
CEO of Volunteering Victoria, Dianne Embry says clearly the Bill presents challenges for volunteering involving organisations and they committed to supporting organisations to meet this challenge.
But, Embry says, it is important to remember that volunteers deserve the same protection under the law as employees.
She says the Bill achieves that in relation to the employment area, and for that reason the volunteering community should support it, but they will need to turn government to support the implementation of the changes if the legislation passes.
Volunteering Victoria has made the following recommendations to government
Recommendation one: The State Government work with Volunteering Victoria and other key stakeholders to respond to this challenge, including specific measures such as a training and resource development plan to assist volunteering response. This should include a knowledge management plan, and some short term monitoring and evaluation of impact of changes on volunteering organisations
Recommendation two: that clear information about how to understand and use exemptions and exceptions under the legislation is a key part of a training and resource development plan. This should include information about the new reasonable adjustment sections
Recommendation three: provide support as part of the training and resource development plan, to establish good practice in recruiting and management to meet these challenges
Recommendation four: provide information in simple form as part of the training and resource development plan about how to meet the positive duty to prevent discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation
Recommendation five: Establish clarity as to the scenarios raised by Volunteering Victoria with respect to the extension of vicarious liability to volunteer involving organisations. Consider further discussion with stakeholders and amendments if required
Recommendation six: Department of Justice work with Volunteering Victoria and other key stakeholders to design and implement a program that maximises understanding of the principles underlying the reform, using a partnership approach. Volunteering stakeholders must take-up the principles underlying the reform if it is to work effectively to change culture.
Recommendation seven: in the implementation of the training and resource development, the reform be presented in the context of broader change for volunteering, linking this reforms to others including to Victoria’s Volunteering Strategy 2009, and proposed changes to the Associations Incorporations Act 1981 Vic.