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With restrictions easing in most areas, many organisations want to restart volunteer programs and bring volunteers back to the workplace, in many cases to help meet the increased demand for their services. However, organisations are hesitant to bring volunteers back because of the lack of insurance cover for COVID-19 related claims.
This is an estimated loss of 12.2 volunteer hours per week. This means fewer services for the community and flow-on effects for the wellbeing of an estimated 4.5 million people who have previously volunteered.
As volunteers are not (typically) covered by Workers Compensation, some volunteer-involving organisations take out Voluntary Workers Personal Accident Insurance. But this insurance does not cover volunteers for illness (only injury), so does not cover them for COVID-19.
If someone contracts COVID-19 while volunteering, they can incur out of pocket medical expenses and loss of income (from being unable to undertake paid work and not having access to paid leave), and may even go on to suffer longer-term or even permanent disability.
Throughout the pandemic, many volunteers have continued to work in essential or permitted services (for example, aged care, emergency relief and as community leaders in ethnically diverse ‘hotspot’ areas) despite these potential risks. This is not fair; volunteers should not be worse off than paid staff for giving freely of their time at the front line during a pandemic
We are calling on all Australian governments to ‘have the back’ of Australia’s volunteer workforce in the COVID-19 crisis by overcoming the pandemic insurance gap for volunteers. We have published a Joint Policy Statement with Volunteering Australia outlining our recommendations.