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Voluntary exploitation

Over the past few years, as councils have hived off their duties to the private sector, there has been a substantial growth in the voluntary, charity and community sector. These groups can cover a range of jobs from housing to care, urban regeneration to environmental concerns.

Often, employment depends on the acquisition of grants from various funds. This means that jobs are offered on shortterm contracts rarely going beyond three years. It also means that many jobs are part-time. Often, part of the job description is to seek further funding for your own employment. The catch is that, if you do succeed, you may well have to re-apply again as it may have a slightly different job description. This puts all the power in the hands of any management committee you have to work under.

If you try to improve your conditions, they always have the threat of not employing you beyond the end of your contract. It also leads to one of the other major problems, working unpaid extra hours. Workers in this sector rarely get overtime payments. Even though many of the extra hours are worked at unsociable times, evenings and weekends, we are expected to take ‘time off in lieu'. The problem is, in small organisations, this proves unfeasible, and the extra hours worked build up to a point where it is impossible to reclaim all the hours owing. Pressure is then applied to the worker who is prevailed upon to donate the extra hours because it is for a good cause. If that doesn't work, then the threat of not being reemployed when your contract ends is used.

It is rare for workers in this sector to be unionised. If so, they are usually the sole person in the organisation who is. Often alone and based in very small workplaces, they can belong to several different unions, the T&G, GMB, UNISON, AMICUS ,etc. What we need is for workers in this sector to get together, across and beyond union organisation, to ensure that basic conditions are met and eventually improved. If anybody wants to get involved in this, contact Catalyst, and we can look towards producing a leaflet especially for workers in this sector and start to connect across workplaces and unions to discuss the best ways of improving our working conditions.

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