Do volunteers have WorkCover compensation rights?
Volunteers are vital to our workforce, communities and our economy around the country. And in the words of Volunteering Australia, they are our country’s backbone during crisis and disaster.
More than one million Australian volunteers have supported us in recent times through floods, fires and the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report released earlier this month reveals that our nation’s volunteer workforce consists of more than 200,000 volunteers in fire services organisations and 25,000 volunteers in State and Territory Emergency Service. And a further 200,000 volunteers are engaged in thousands of registered emergency and relief charities; not to forget to mention the thousands of invisible volunteers who help informally to support our communities.
What is the definition of a volunteer?
In Victoria, the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (the Act), defines a volunteer as “a person who is acting on a voluntary basis (irrespective of whether the person received out-of-pocket expenses)”.
Organisations that work with volunteers do have a duty under Victorian law to ensure that adequate health and safety measures are implemented to reduce the risk of injury to their volunteers.
In Victoria, only certain volunteers however may be covered by WorkCover legislation in the event of injury. (But should a volunteer not fall into one of the accepted categories they may be able to seek compensation via a public liability action through the Wrong’s Act).
Which volunteers are eligible for workers’ compensation in Victoria?
While most other Australian states have implemented a model Work Health and Safety Act that provides no difference between the legal duties and obligations owned to volunteers and workers, In Victoria, as hinted above, most volunteers unfortunately aren’t covered by WorkCover policies and therefore are not eligible for WorkCover benefits if injured or become ill during voluntary duties.
There are exceptions to this rule where certain volunteers are entitled to WorkCover compensation if they are deemed a “worker” under an Act of Parliament. For example, volunteers who assist government agencies such as Country Fire Authority (CFA) and State Emergency Services (SES).
If you are a volunteer or someone who assists a government agency in accordance with one of the below Acts of Parliament and are injured while carrying out relevant duties, then you will be entitled to statutory WorkCover compensation:
- Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (casual fire fighters, including volunteer officers and members and volunteer auxiliary workers)
- Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (volunteer school workers or volunteer student workers)
- Emergency Management Act 1986 (volunteer emergency workers)
- Juries Act 2000 (jurors)
- Police Assistance Compensation Act 1968 (PAC Act) ( volunteers assisting police officers)
- Victoria State Emergency Services Act 2005 (voluntary registered and probationary members of the Victoria SES)
The same goes for volunteers in prisons and offenders working or participating in a program under a Correctional Order – they are deemed workers employed by the Crown and thereby entitled to statutory WorkCover compensation.
SES volunteers and workers are particularly prone to developing psychological conditions due to the traumatic scenes that many face during disasters and rescue efforts.
CFA volunteers and workers are particularly at risk of developing occupational diseases due to their heightened risk of exposure to toxic fumes. If they develop cancer then the presumptive firefighter rights may come into play. Read more about volunteer firefighters and Country Fire Authority volunteer auxiliary workers’ rights to workers’ compensation here.
Zaparas Lawyers have helped many CFA and SES volunteers with WorkCover compensation claims. If you’ve been injured in a work-related or volunteering-related role, please contact us.