Trade union Unite has organised a day of political lobbying over what it sees as the debilitating effects of the "short-term contract culture" on voluntary sector staff.
Angela Smith, Minister for the Third Sector, has agreed to host a round-table discussion with the union, which has 60,000 members in the voluntary sector, on 9 March. She will also join representatives from umbrella bodies Navca and the NCVO in addressing a mass meeting of Unite members, who will then be encouraged to lobby their own constituency MPs.
Rachael Maskell, Unite's national officer for the not-for-profit sector, said union research, which will be released before the meetings, shows that short-term public service contracts given to the voluntary sector have increased job insecurity in the sector and contributed to an "excessive and stressful hours culture" among staff struggling to meet tight demands.
She said falling voluntary income and corporate donations had combined with accelerating local authority cuts and increased competition for contracts to put sector workers under severe stress and threaten the quality of services.
"Best value has gone back to meaning the cheapest option, and many contracts are loss-leaders that involve people working extortionate hours," she said. "The sector is seen as a panacea, but you have to get things right for the workforce because it is crumbling under the pressure.
"One reason the third sector has worked in the past is that there has been support for the workforce. But now no one ever talks about the workforce. It is as if it has been airbrushed out."
She said Unite wanted contracts to last at least five years, improved training opportunities and a commitment to making sure terms and conditions were preserved when staff were obliged to transfer between organisations at the end of a contract.