Valuing Australia's volunteers
The catastrophic bushfires that wrought horror and havoc across Australia highlighted just how vital volunteers are to the country.
Reactive measures to pay volunteer firefighters for their time as the fire season dragged on raised questions about the value of reimbursing volunteers when they take time off work.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but paid leave for volunteering has many benefits.
31% of Australians are involved in volunteering, contributing 743 million hours to the community each year. Despite these impressive figures, volunteering is on the decline in Australia. Time constraints – work, school, caring for children/ageing relatives – is a major barrier.
A number of organisations are working to address this issue. Including UTS, which recently introduced paid volunteer leave for our staff.
Social Justice Leave entitles UTS staff up to five days paid leave to volunteer their time, skills and abilities to positively impact the community.
Social Justice Leave at UTS
Social Justice Leave entitles continuing or fixed term staff up to five days paid leave to volunteer their time, skills and abilities to positively impact communities beyond our campus.
1. Select an organisation that exists for public benefit, is non-profit and has a social good or charitable purpose, and confirm they are happy to take you on
2. Speak with your supervisor to negotiate an appropriate time to take your leave to ensure the least amount of disruption to your work
A tip from Alex: "I think sometimes people feel really nervous to talk to their supervisors about these types of things and they feel like they're asking for something but they're not. You're entitled to it, just negotiate the time and space where it's appropriate to take that leave."
3. Fill out your ‘Application for Social Justice Leave’
4. Apply for leave in NEO
Full details about Social Justice Leave are on StaffConnect.
“I think that people have an innate drive to support others, and contribute,” said Alex Connor, Volunteering and Training Coordinator at the UTS Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion.
“I also think that volunteering is a way for a lot of people to develop self-awareness, develop new skills and really get to know themselves.”
In 2019, Alex used Social Justice Leave to volunteer for two organisations; TEDxSydney and the Living Building Institute.
At TEDxSydney, Alex managed speakers and performer registrations. With the Living Building Institute, a non-profit that looks at buildings that put positive net worth into the environment, she put her project management skills to use, by helping run a conference on sustainable building initiatives.
“I've always had to take annual leave to support my volunteering, so it felt amazing to be able to use Social Justice Leave,” Alex said.
“It felt as though something I thought was really important to support my community, my organisation also thought was really important.”
Volunteering in Australia has huge financial benefits, with research suggesting that it contributes $14.6 billion to the economy.
According to Alex, the Australian public are becoming more focussed on purpose in their jobs and extra-curricular endeavours.
It’s not just about profit-driven business anymore. “Some are doing entrepreneurship, some are doing social enterprise, but increasingly they're looking for organisations where they feel like they can also give back.”
Institutions like UTS are in the perfect position to facilitate this shift. But we are not alone.
Since 2003, PwC has run its own volunteer program, to allow employees to contribute to a cause they are passionate about, build relationships and networks, gain new skills and experiences, and increase their understanding of key social issues.
“Our firm supports social impact as a key way to deliver on our purpose as well as to provide opportunities to our people that are engaging, rewarding and offer great professional development.
“There’s a growing expectation that business shouldn’t exist solely to generate a profit for shareholders,” said PwC Partner (Social Impact), Rosalie Wilkie.
Organisations and companies also stand to benefit. In Alex’s experience, “whenever a staff member gets a chance to go and volunteer you're exposed to a new environment, you're exposed to new experiences and you actually bring that value back to your day job.”
PwC actively encourage employees to use ‘Social Impact Time’ as part of their career development. People can do this through skilled and community volunteering, pro or low bono engagements, mentoring and being an internal champion for homelessness, reconciliation and the environment – three issues that PwC has chosen to focus on.
“The world is changing rapidly and we need new approaches from government, academia, business and community to solve complex social issues,” said Rosalie.
There’s no denying the momentous impact that volunteers have on Australia. Without them, there would be no school canteens running, sporting clubs would be without coaches and umpires, and Australia might still be on fire.
“We're very lucky in Australia,” reflects Alex. “We have a very high volunteering culture and a very strong sense of responsibility to each other. That's hugely powerful. The more people get the chance to express that and feel that really shifts the way that we treat each other.”