Editorial: The missing element in the call to action

The Volunteer Rights Inquiry's decision not to commit to an independent arbitrator could result in further problems down the line, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

After 15 months, the Volunteer Rights Inquiry has issued a call to action for volunteer-involving organisations.

This asks them to sign the 3R Promise, which consists of "getting it right, achieving reconciliation and accepting responsibility". Seventeen bodies, including the big volunteering charities Citizens Advice, St John Ambulance, the RSPB and the WRVS, have already signed up.

The promise involves identifying a trustee with responsibility for volunteering who would monitor complaints and encourage a rapid resolution, and reporting publicly on the implementation of the promise. There are also commitments to follow good practice and work with the Call to Action Progress Group over the next two years.

What is missing is a commitment to give volunteers recourse to an independent body to arbitrate in difficult cases. It says only that signatories will "explore local mediation services where necessary" and respect the wish of volunteers "to always have a fair hearing if a conflict arises". The wording seems deliberately tentative.

Last summer the inquiry published an interim report that said: "Overwhelmingly, volunteers expressed the need for an independent means of obtaining redress". This was based on testimony from volunteers, one of whom described being "chewed up and spat out". The report cautioned that such evidence came from a small, self-selected sample and general conclusions should not be based on it. But it went into some detail about how a Volunteer Complaints Commissioner could be configured.

Since that report, the inquiry's consultations with stakeholders have evidently led to the conclusion that a complaints commissioner is not the right way. Presumably that has the support of the two inquiry members who are volunteer rights campaigners.

The conclusions might have been influenced by a pragmatic perception that more expense and bureaucracy is unlikely to find favour with the government. But it's a fair bet that, without a commitment to an independent arbitrator, there will be further bust-ups down the line.

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