Cameron pledges annual volunteering leave for 15m staffers
Prime minister revives “Big Society” brand in plans for deepening workers' community engagement
Some 15 million workers – including every public-sector employee and anyone based at a firm with at least 250 staff – would be granted three days’ annual volunteering leave if the Conservatives win the General Election. David Cameron has announced that the measure would boost uptake of charity work and other, unpaid public-service roles, such as school governorships.
“This election is about building a better future for our children and grandchildren,” Cameron said. “The foundation stone of that better future is our economic security. But Conservatives know the society we build on top of that is just as important too. That’s why today’s announcement is a double win. It’s good for our economy, as it will help create a better, more motivated workforce. And it’s good for our society too, as it will strengthen communities and the bonds between us.”
In an unexpected echo of a long-dormant buzz phrase from the General Election of 2010, Cameron added: “This is the clearest demonstration of the Big Society in action – and I’m proud it’s a Conservative government that will deliver it.”
To ameliorate bosses who may be concerned that the measure is compulsory, communities secretary Eric Pickles told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “Nobody is forcing companies to organise this volunteering if it causes problems to the company … We expect people to have a bit of give-and-take on this, as we expect people to have a bit of give-and-take with regard to annual leave.”
Petra Wilton, director of strategy at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), commented: “We welcome this new political focus on the value of volunteering. CMI research has shown that volunteering can be hugely beneficial to employees, their employers as well as to local communities and charities. Volunteering often puts people outside of their comfort zones, gives them new working experiences and leads them to develop new management and people skills that they can bring back to their workplace.”
However, she stressed, any such scheme should ensure that days off for volunteering deliver real benefit to the individual, their employer and to the organisation they volunteer for. “Rather than making such time off a mandatory requirement,” she added, “the scheme may be far more effective if workers are given the right to request leave for volunteering. This would better ensure that both employers and employees can be confident that it will be mutually beneficial experience.”