Clause 78

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:15 pm ar 23 Mehefin 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Interpretation and exceptions

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I beg to move amendment 243, in clause 78, page 58, line 45, at end insert—

‘(e) unremunerated work that is comparable to employment.’.

A probing amendment to establish to what extent volunteers have the same protection from discrimination as employees.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 19—Volunteers—

‘For the avoidance of doubt, with the exclusion of matters related to remuneration, all rights of employees under this Act are deemed to extend to persons who work as volunteers without remuneration; and all duties of employees and their employers to avoid discrimination are deemed to extend to volunteers working without remuneration.’.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

The amendment is probing to establish to what extent volunteers have the same protection from discrimination as employees, and I hope that they have the same protections. Obviously, the discrimination could not be between paid and non-paid workers, but volunteers often have expenses, such as those for travel and lunch. I am sure that there should be no discrimination between someone with a disability, an ethnic minority person or a woman getting differential expenses, but I would like that matter clarified, because it is unclear to me whether volunteers will be protected from discrimination. I am not sure whether the service or the type of employment will be protected by part 3 when providing goods and services, but it is clear that those who offer their services for free should not be discriminated against, and I would be grateful if the Government clarified that.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I rise to speak to amendment 243 and new clause 19, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, who, owing to his service on the Council of Europe, is unable to be in Committee today.

As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green said, the amendment probes, as does the new clause, the extent to which volunteers will be covered. If organisations rely heavily on volunteers and if all the rules in the work section apply to volunteers, we want to ensure that, given the nature of volunteering—the length of the relationship and what is invested in it—we do not make organisations less likely to want to use volunteers. In particular, as we discussed in the previous debate, the route back to work for some disabled people will involve going straight from benefits to working in a full-time job, but the route for others will perhaps involve taking up a volunteering opportunity, then a part-time opportunity and then full-time work. For many people, that is a successful route back into work.

The amendment and new clause test what applies to employers. Not only do we want employers not to discriminate, but we want them to use the disability provisions. We want them to be able to favour disabled people not just as employees but as volunteers, to provide opportunities that will help not just the disabled people but our overall goal of getting more of them back into work.

The amendment and new clause are designed to check the extent to which this part of the Bill applies to those who are volunteering their services to organisations. Will it apply to volunteering in general, or will it capture other types of volunteering, such as volunteering that is akin to working, albeit without pay?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

The amendment and the new clause are about whether we extend the protection from discrimination, victimisation and harassment to volunteers. We recognise the contribution of volunteering and believe that volunteers should be treated with respect and care, but we do not legislate for volunteers in exactly the same way as employees in the Bill.

First, there is no clear evidence of systematic discrimination. The majority of volunteers appear to be well managed. We have looked at the legal rights of volunteers on a number of occasions—most recently exploring them in 2004, when a private Member’s Bill was promoted by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). Research from 2007 shows no suggestion of such discrimination, although there may be some dissatisfaction in how voluntary placements are organised.

Secondly, there is some protection. Volunteers are currently protected from discrimination, victimisation and harassment in respect of the provision of goods, facilities and services to the public. As recipients of services—for instance, from an agency that arranges placements—there would be protection, which has been extended to cover age. Such discrimination might be highly relevant. Changing the laws proposed would provide a remedy in an employment tribunal instead of a county court, but there is a remedy already. Where the relationship between a charity or organisation and an individual amounts to employment, there is protection under the employment provisions.

A practical difficulty in extending discrimination legislation across the board is that volunteering can vary from regular daily routines in the shop to driving someone to hospital from time to time. There is a wide range of volunteering. In some cases, the organisation for which the volunteer works may do little more than put a volunteer in touch with someone who they may be able to help and then simply check up to see that all is going well. There would be difficulties in drawing the line, and there could be a chilling effect on the number of volunteers if legislative burdens were imposed on such a diverse sector. However, no one would wish that volunteers, who offer their time for free, should be treated unfairly, and the Government are committed to ensuring that that does not happen by continuing to monitor the situation and to provide support and guidance.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I thank the Minister for her explanation, which lays out the parameters exactly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 8 agreed to.