Would a volunteering union help?

Reported by Mark

Published on Tuesday, June 11th, 2024

Volunteering and Employment

Would a volunteering union help?

Written by Mark

Published on Tuesday, June 11th, 2024

Volunteering and Employment

I am not a professional politician, nor am I a lobbyist. I’m not even a professional by means of the definition.

In view of that, I would like to explore the potential viability of a volunteer union.

Volunteers by the definition are those who work unpaid save their expenses.

However, things are changing, as the culture of ‘service user involvement’ goes from service user to expert by experience.

With the valuable experience that so many of us may have garnered through our experiences, what we have to offer is far more valuable to the services than those who simply manage a project without our input.

Many services are now designed through the relatively new concept of co production. This hugely successful idea is about flattening the hierarchy between the service user and the paid staff who plan a new programme, system or concept, which is normally executed with a not-for-profit organisation, such as a charity or social enterprise.

If done well, a really good co production project from idea to execution may have similar aspects of a support group, whereby those involved will brainstorm their ideas through their own personal experiences. That openness in those co production meetings can establish new ideas and concepts that seemingly were born by virtue of pure chance.

Another aspect of volunteering may be for career progression. For example, I know very few drug workers or homeless support workers who stepped straight onto the paid career ladder. Normally, they would have some experience supporting vulnerable people in some manner in a voluntary capacity. And from that starting point, they would normally apply for a highly competitive role. At the interview, they would explain to their prospective boss how they set up a library reading service for homeless people in their own time.

On the other hand, there are people like my wonderful mum, who will soon start a new career fostering dogs. She was asked if she would foster a little cross breed while the dog pound is full. By doing this, she will enrich her own quality of life and the life of the pooch!

In view of that, there really are so many ways and types of volunteering… supporting your elderly parents, campaigning for a political party, administrative work, charity trustee positions, litter picking at festivals, and so on. There are so many opportunities, but ultimately, these are opportunities that people want to do, otherwise, duh, they would not volunteer their time and energy.

Yesterday, I was at a co production meeting with other co production groups to share our experiences and garner what learnings we could.

Someone from another group suggested volunteer unions.

Given that we are not given an employment contract, ultimately most volunteers therefore have no employment rights. Except being treated like respected humans.

I know very little about politics and have always assumed that unions are all about the bottom line… to get a decent hourly rate in line with the profit their bosses make? See National Union of Miners… or the train strikes last year.

Given that my own motivation to volunteer has so little to do remunerations and more to do with having a certain focus and passion in life, I’m not too sure how a union would benefit my own experiences.

A good quality charity would probably offer my expenses like travel and lunch for my time or even offer Amazon vouchers for my contribution.

If I don’t attend to my volunteering responsibilities, sure, my team would be disappointed, but I would not be irreplaceable.

For example, Groundswell do their amazing Homeless Health Peer Advocacy (HHPA) service.

This is an incredible service which has helped thousands of people over the course of the decades Groundswell has been alive.

The HHPA service relies on its volunteers to make the huge impact, ie, support homeless clients to medical appointments.

For a few months, I was an HHPA volunteer and enjoyed it. It was hard work and I felt I contributed to society. However, given that my career goal is not necessarily to be a caseworker, I changed my volunteering to be part of the Listen Up reporters’ team.

In terms of unions, in my opinion, to volunteer is more of a luxury than a necessity to earn money and pay bills and rent.

Volunteering is something I do because I have time and energy on my hands and it affords me the opportunities to use my time wisely and constructively in my own way.

In the same way my mum fosters dogs, the “career volunteers”, and those like me, who write for Groundswell’s Listen Up: all have our own agendas outside the necessity for immediate remuneration.

For those who do work, who do rely on their income for food, rent, bills, etc., they are the ones who require employment representation. I could tell you horror stories when I needed representation which was not available. Maybe if that option were available to me then, I may have thrived in my career.

On the other hand, I love the simplicity of not being forced to work by my landlord to pay the rent, I love the simplicity of not having unionised workplace stress and I love the idea that if I get out of line, that my manager can simply ask me to not return next week and not have the stress of a potential employment tribunal over our heads. Instead, I would be able to search the net and find a more suitable volunteering opportunity going forward.

In view of that all, I am not so sure a volunteering union is really the way forward. Instead, I would argue for the simplest way of life. To just turn up if you want and if you don’t want to, don’t turn up, and instead say thank you for your opportunity and move forward.

That way, things can work out so well both ways.

Written by Mark

Hi, my name is Mark. I’m an ethical entrepreneur and have lived experience from all sorts. Recovery is not linear, although I aim to make it a bit more flat for all of us. Thank you.

Read all of Mark's articles


Volunteering and Employment

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