Volunteering ombudsman mooted in House of Lords

Peers debate equal employment rights

The Government should consider the possibility of an ombudsman to settle disputes involving volunteers, peers have heard.

The House of Lords last week debated whether charity volunteers should enjoy the same equality rights as those in paid employment. Peers said the Government should give them access to an ombudsman to mediate in disputes with the charities they work for.

"Volunteers should be able to seek support and advice when they need it," said Baroness Thornton, a Labour peer, during the debate. "We are not convinced that seeking employment rights under equality legislation is the solution, but exploring the possibility of an ombudsman may be one."

The debate considered the situation at York Citizens Advice Bureau, where 28 volunteers walked out in protest at the ‘sacking' of a colleague last year. A subsequent report by John Stoker, former Commissioner for the Compact, found that the bureau had suffered from governance and management failings (Third Sector Online, 30 October).

Baroness Thornton said the diverse nature of volunteering and the lack of fixed employment contracts between voluntary workers and organisations would prevent the Government from passing equalities legislation that applied specifically to volunteers.

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