Volunteering in private companies

This is a topic that I’ve had a couple of conversations about recently, sparked I think by comments from our Volunteering Champion, and a general confusion about what is volunteering and what is work experience.

Call me an old stick in the mud, but I cannot agree that involving volunteers in private companies is a good thing.  Where someone is making a private profit (as an owner or shareholder) I can’t see how volunteer involvement is anything other than exploitation.

The waters are muddied by the increased privatisation of public services.  Should users of such services miss out on the added value that volunteers bring?  I’d argue that such services should be paid for by the private company contracting voluntary sector groups, and that this element of care must be considered as part of any commissioning arrangement.

Part of the problem here is that we haven’t had a strong pro-volunteering voice able to affect local and national government agendas on such issues.  It would be great to feel confident that there was an organisation out there championing the cause of volunteering, even if that meant putting the volunteering champion’s nose out of joint occasionally.

I realise that many people will just write me off as some antiquated fossil who should just get with the times Daddy-O, but there are practical issues too.

People on benefits cannot volunteer in private companies.  Nor can asylum seekers.    That’s the current legal position, and I can’t see it changing for either status.

Government advice on work placements in private companies states that such unpaid help should be time limited – ideally to two weeks but no more than four.

I’ll sneak something more controversial in at the end.  I’m not entirely convinced that some social enterprises should be involving volunteers, even though their profits are not going into private hands.

Social enterprise covers a wide range of organisations.  I guess I’m particularly referring to those that are set up with an explicitly market driven model.  This seems like having your cake and eating it to me.  If the market is such a wonderful way of doing things, shouldn’t the workers be paid their market rate?  And isn’t this giving an uncompetitive advantage over other private companies not involving unpaid labour?

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