Community volunteering at risk under Health and Safety Reform Bill

4 Dec 2014

Local government is seeking changes to the Health and Safety Reform Bill 2014 for the benefit of communities, to allow councils to continue working with local residents on voluntary environmental, school and community projects.

Proposed changes under the Health and Safety Reform Bill would treat all volunteers as workers, making councils potentially liable for local residents who choose to pitch in at events and projects such as beach clean-ups or when school groups plant trees in parks.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) President, Lawrence Yule, says the sense of engagement people receive from volunteering is important for residents to feel they are connected and contributing to their communities.  Councils would no longer be able to effectively work with the vast numbers of people who do various volunteer activities if the proposed changes take place.

“Changes proposed in the Health and Safety Reform Bill around volunteers will negatively impact communities by limiting councils’ abilities to provide the public with opportunities for civic engagement,” Mr Yule says.

“Volunteers play an important place in communities across all of New Zealand but these changes would threaten councils’ resources for events such as stream clean-ups and their ability to support vital community centres where volunteers work.  Rural areas that have volunteers in libraries, museums and local information centres would be hit the hardest.”

Volunteering New Zealand Chairperson, Jan Harrison, says the New Zealand public would have fewer opportunities to get involved locally if the Reform Bill is passed as it is.

“On average, people in New Zealand spend 13 minutes per day in volunteering activities: the highest in the OECD, where the average is 4 minutes per day.  Kiwi communities would really suffer if people have fewer opportunities to volunteer locally,” Mrs Harrison says.

“Through the selfless efforts of many volunteers, local emergency services, sports and recreation, animal welfare, health, education, faith communities, social services, the environment and conservation, human rights, and community support and development services serve their community.”

Local government wholly supports the need for local authorities to owe all volunteers a duty of care, but the sector considers that the correct balance between the imposition of a duty and the potential to incur liability is achieved under the current Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

LGNZ’s submission on the Reform Bill is available here.  LGNZ has commissioned the redrafting of the specific provisions relating to volunteers and has put these to central government.