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06 February 2019
By Matt Hrkac

Victorian Greens seeking 'volunteer assistant organisers'

No, the job title isn't 'volunteer assistant organiser' i.e a person assisting in the organising of volunteers, this really is a volunteer, assisting organisers or organising volunteers. It even states as much in the preamble:

Are you passionate about community organising? We are looking for an organiser – someone who can build a team to support our candidates and supporters to have thousands of meaningful and persuasive conversations with Victorian voters throughout 2019. This is not your average volunteer opportunity. The Victorian Greens are at the forefront of data driven community organising. We mobilise thousands of volunteers and talk to tens of thousands of voters. You will volunteer on weekends and evenings instead of weekdays, and you’ll need to be self-motivated and flexible – but you’ll meet amazing Greens members from all walks of life, and make a real difference to growing the political party that stands up for what matters. If you enjoy working with people and are passionate about building a progressive Australia, you’ll love this opportunity.

Yes, it certainly is correct that this isn't just your "average volunteer opportunity". Dig a little deeper into the position description, which is even more revealing:

Managing volunteers and supervising teams are listed as part of the "desirable skills" section. Now, people who volunteer for political parties and candidates will naturally fall into these responsibilities at the local electorate level - but this is arguably more high-level than that.

Then there's the part about meeting tight deadlines and managing logistics - again, more high level than the typical volunteer for a candidate standing for election.

But wait, it becomes even more damning:

To apply for these volunteer positions, applicants are expected to submit a resume and a covering letter addressing the selection criteria (being, the desirable skills section), with successful applicants expected to go through an interview process.

Lets take a look at the Fair Work Ombudsman, which categorises legal unpaid work into the following categories: unpaid trials (nope, this advertisement doesn't fit that), student placement (again, nope) and work experience and internships (fits closest into this category). Under this category, it states:

Unpaid work experience, job placements and internships that are not vocational placements will be unlawful if the person is in an employment relationship with the business or organisation they are doing the work for. 

Digging deeper still:

If the purpose of the work experience, placement or internship to give the person work experience it is less likely to be an employment relationship. But if the person is doing work to help with the ordinary operation of the business or organisation it may be an employment relationship arises. The more productive work that’s involved (rather than just observation, learning, training or skill development), the more likely it is that the person’s an employee.

Now the people undertaking this particular role certainly aren't doing so just for observation, learning, training or skill development. It will be assisting with the ordinary operation of the organisation. 

Is the work normally done by paid employees? Does the business or organisation need this work to be done? If the person is doing work that would otherwise be done by an employee, or it's work that the business or organisation has to do, it's more likely the person is an employee.'

Self explanatory. The Victorian Greens have employed paid organisers to perform this work in the past - even as recently as the 2018 Victorian State Election.

Although the person may do some productive activities as part of a learning experience, training or skill development, they're less likely to be an employee if they aren't expected or required by the business or organisation to come to work or do productive activities.

The people working in this particular role would be required to come to work and do productive activities - including managerial and supervision work. It states as much in the opening page of the position description that it is a 0.2 to 0.4 full-time equivalent position, or one to two days a week, plus weekend and evening work.

The person who’s doing the work should get the main benefit from the arrangement. If a business or organisation is getting the main benefit from engaging the person and their work, it’s more likely the person is an employee.

This one is obvious. It certainly isn't the person volunteering getting the benefit in this case.

Hence for the sake of determining whether this is a legitimate volunteer placement opportunity, or a position where those undertaking it should be entitled to the minimum wage plus the entitlements set out in the National Employment Standards (or in the case of the Victorian Greens, their enterprise agreement) - it is blatantly obvious that this is in breach as to what constitutes a lawful volunteer placement versus actual employment.

This isn't the first time that the Victorian Greens have advertised for unpaid volunteers interns - but that was at least done under the auspice of no expectations on part of the interns and volunteers to turn up, nor has there been any expectation that they perform tasks that are not to the benefit of the intern or volunteer.

If the Greens want to be taken seriously about workers rights and fair wages, they should pay their employees the appropriate renumeration that they are entitled to - or don't engage anyone at all.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and activist based in Geelong who regularly contributes to Green Left Weekly. He has particular interests in politics, elections and the trade union movement and has had extensive involvement in a number of local campaigns. He is a former member of the Greens.

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