What is voluntary work?
Voluntary work typically refers to unpaid, unsupervised jobs that are undertaken by the person who wants to do them. A person might volunteer as a babysitter, for instance, or undertake certain cleaning duties at a family member’s home.
Volunteers usually carry out their chosen work because they want to help others in some way and are driven by feelings of altruism.
When does voluntary work count as volunteering?
The key question when taking on voluntary work is whether it counts as volunteering or not. Volunteering would normally involve one person doing the work for another, for example when a cleaner takes on voluntary work for house-sitters.
Volunteers are often unpaid, but this doesn’t mean that all volunteering is voluntary. Research suggests that many volunteering programmes rely on payment and some volunteers perform voluntary tasks involuntarily; they’re forced to act by one person and are paid to do so.
Workers’ rights in the workplace
Workers’ rights can vary widely between countries, depending on whether they are employees or self-employed.
Volunteers who work for non-profits or other public bodies are generally seen in law as workers. This means they are covered by the country’s national laws on minimum pay, maximum hours and health and safety.
Volunteering holidays abroad
When travelling to a foreign country, it’s important to check out how the local authorities view volunteers. Many countries have laws that protect volunteers and their activities: laws on tax, insurance and employment rights, among others.
Volunteering is a popular activity among young people in many countries. The practice is promoted by governments and international organisations, which often offer financial or other support to those who want to volunteer.
Volunteering overseas can sometimes be fraught with problems, however, especially when volunteers don’t carefully check out the legal framework of their chosen project.
As well as laws on insurance, health and safety and tax, one area that needs careful consideration is workers’ rights; this includes the right to fair pay.