Paid volunteering leave: way to exploit or encourage employees?
Up to fifteen million people will be entitled to an extra three days annual leave to undertake voluntary work according to the latest electoral pledge from the Conservative party.
The party proposes that any employee working in a company consisting of more than 250 people would be legally entitled to the extra leave, along with all employees working in the public sector.
The paid voluntary leave scheme is the first pledge of the 2015 election from the Conservative party which echoes the “big society” rhetoric: the flagship initiative used throughout the 2010 campaign by David Cameron as a byword for a series of policy proposals designed to increase participation and co-operation within local communities.
The idea has been welcomed by many. John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), has described the plans for paid volunteering leave as a win-win situation for all concerned, according to The Daily Telegraph.
But questions are already being raised concerning the sincerity of the proposals, considering that until this announcement the Conservatives had been running a campaign in which “big society” discourse had been conspicuously absent.
The party’s chief whip Michael Gove even stated explicitly during an interview on the BBC’s Newsnight programme last week that the party had moved on from the concept.
So why have the Conservatives suddenly decided to dramatically re-embrace the “big society”? And what effects could the paid voluntary leave scheme have on employees?
The Labour party suggest that the proposals have been ill thought out and are merely an attempt by the Tories to counter a week of negative campaigning which saw the party criticised for highly personal comments made by defence secretary Michael Fallon concerning Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Writing in The Times last week, Fallon accused Miliband of being a “backstabber” in reference to his decision to stand against his brother David in the 2010 Labour leadership contest.
Perhaps the Tories hope that the proposals for paid voluntary leave will breathe some positivity and idealism into their campaign to counter accusations that Fallon’s comments demonstrate the party is fighting a dirty election.
Whatever their motivations, should the pledge be carried through it could prove to be extremely beneficial to employees, employers and communities.
In Britain, 41 per cent of people sacrificed at least one day of their spare time last year to help a good cause, according to figures from the Institute for Volunteering Research. Volunteering is not only a fantastic way for people to give something back to their community but is also important for making them feel involved in society and engaged with the world around them.
The proposed legislation will make it easier for even more people to give up their time for good causes, having a positive impact on an array of charities and community organisations. Employers may be reluctant to grant workers extra annual leave but would ultimately benefit from a workforce that is happier, content and more productive.
Some critics have suggested that the proposals incentivise volunteer work, contradicting the notion of volunteering being a selfless act undertaken for no money. The financial cost to employers would also have to be carefully considered, especially given that extra annual leave for those working in the public sector would be funded by the tax payer.
Nevertheless, only a fool or ultra pessimist would argue that an initiative designed to encourage people to volunteer for a good cause and play a more active role in their local communities is anything other than money well spent.