Volunteer Work

Since moving to a new town and missing work, I started to apply for jobs and look for volunteering opportunities. One thing that struck me, were the number of “volunteer” jobs. Now I don’t mind a call for volunteers to do supernumerary roles, like visiting elderly residents for a social chat, helping at the Op Shop, cleaning out kennels at the wildlife refuge etc.

Some of these jobs were with the commercial arm of charities running aged care. They wanted gardeners, activity co-ordinator, personal & transport, etc, and the one that did it for me - Administration Officer. Surely a core function. The information I got back required me to commit to certain hours and days, up to full time.

The other was the cost to the volunteer - to be able to apply you had to prove you had things like current first aid, Hep vaccinations, Aged Care cert, Working with Children card, recent Police Check, chainsaw ticket, truck licence, reliable car, mobile phone etc. I did apply for several positions thinking I could contribute to society, but have never received an interview or invitation, possibly because I can’t prove my Hep vac and didn’t supply a Police Check. One sent me a response with a long list of other positions for which they were seeking volunteers and the contact for a $49.50 Police Check. What do I get out of it? Most promise something like a reference after 6 months satisfactory service.

Is this somehow tied up with an unemployment scheme - maybe I am not eligible for a subsidy or whatever? I am just miffed that things I traditionally thought were provided by an employer are being requested of the employee, that an employer would seek to fill core functions with unpaid staff.

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Many charities, particularly those owned and run by churches, are no more than tax-free very lucrative businesses. Getting people to work free on the basis that it’s “charity” is just another method of increasing their profits.


I’m with you @zackarii: if you volunteer your time and energy, the organisation should (perhaps after a qualifying period) cover the costs.

It would seem to me that those are not places you would want to work… I believe how an organisation treats their workers is an indicator of how they treat their clients. So if they exploit their workers, what does this say about their corporate ethos?


Volunteering is an essential component of our society and many not-for-profit organisations could not do the work they do without volunteers. There are a number of websites you can use to ensure you find a volunteer position that suits your circumstances. In Sydney, The Centre for Volunteering has some excellent information and will match people to positions. More broadly you can try GoVolunteer (powered by SEEK). And check that any prospective employing organisation is registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

I hope the hyperlinks work and good luck with volunteering.

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The area I am talking about has a high unemployment rate, and it isn’t just “charitable” organisations. Today 1 in 7 job adverts in my feed were unpaid work for commercial operations such as a caravan park looking for a couple to manage it including reception, laundry, cleaning, gardening in return for on-site caravan accommodation (owners don’t live near site).

Today a commercial tour operator posted this (snipped) “keen to volunteer by helping out our tagalong tour guides with cleaning & cooking! You get to stay at our beach house, when the tours come in you help cook & clean, when they go you clean up & get ready for the next one! During down time you get to see some of xxx’s beautiful attractions!” Sign-on was for a minimum of one month. This resort / 4WD business had 4 lead tour vehicles, hire cars, bunk house, at least 5 cabins and quoted up to $1,250 (out of season). Surely they can pay staff and not rely on the vulnerable?

I have been offering my services and there are several worthy causes that won’t displace a paid person eg JP’s in the Community. However, there seems to be an unemployment scheme for the over 50’s where they are placed in volunteer positions with registered Not-for-Profits and in return they don’t have to report seeking work to get the dole. I joined the local history society and volunteered my services for transcribing old documents (something I have done for years). They declined, because they already had several “unemployed” who were doing the job on a 3 day a week basis and didn’t have any more room or computers. Good for the society, good for the unemployed, but is this skewing the statistics? I am told unemployment is over 14%, but officially about 5.6%.

My concern as a consumer / employee - things like worker’s comp, where you stand when the tour operator rents out your room or places others in it during the busy season (ie breaks/alters their agreement), or the owners accuse you of mishandling the takings. A Not-for-Profit usually has cover for their members, but what of “volunteers” in commercial operations? Personally I won’t use these businesses from a moral standpoint and also because I don’t expect the same standard of responsibility from a volunteer as opposed to a paid employee (even though they may give it).

Sorry for the rant. I really dislike this trend in unpaid work.


So you should. It’s a disgrace and shouldn’t be legal.


Looking at GoVolunteer in my area - I see a lot of unpaid jobs listed by a Not-for-Profit. I suspect this entity was set up to make the unpaid jobs appear charitable (I am so cynical!!). Some are OK - Social chats with elderly residents, build sets for Little Theatre. Some a bit borderline - selling merchandise and taking bookings for first aid courses, working in a factory to fabricate aids (for sale?) to disabled. Some I consider should be paid - Laundry & Kitchen hands (4 days a week), child care worker, gardener, school cleaner. The N-f-P requires the applicant have Police Check, etc, and none of the jobs offers any reimbursement, only “on the job training” and some talk of “experience working in a team”. They are all Long Term.

Now, my concept of volunteering is giving a few hours a week to improve my community. I have done this for many years, through Scouts, JP, visiting the hospital / aged care residents, tourist information centre, historical society / museums, Clean-up Aust, N-f-P clubs as office bearer, working bees, flood recovery. None of these were funded by grants or business, except outright donations. As President etc I assured my volunteers they would not be compelled to “work” and we limited the hours, always tried to fund raise to give them travel money (especially those out of town who may travel 50-100km to do their 4 hours). Always told them how much we appreciated them. If they couldn’t do their hours (eg open the Info Centre that day) that was no drama, we had others who were happy to do it, and any extra hours given were appreciated. No one had to sign on for a minimum period or guarantee their time.

As a consumer & potential unpaid employee, I am concerned.


Hi Zachary,

Hope this helps: I’m an older volunteer & have worked for Red Cross & the local council for some years. They both cover the cost of police checks & have ethical guidelines.


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