The Conversation: Climate Change Front Line Volunteers Need Better Pay and Conditions

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

According to The Conversation, the lack of workers organisation in volunteer groups is preventing volunteers from receiving the pay and conditions they deserve.

The green gig economy: precarious workers are on the frontline of climate change fight

April 21, 2020 11.41pm AEST

Sango MahantyAssociate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Benjamin NeimarkSenior Lecturer, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University

Politicians and business people are fond of making promises to plant thousands of trees to slow climate change. But who actually plants those trees, and who tends them as they grow?

The hard and dirty work of restoring ecosystems will be invaluable in coming decades, to soak up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, ease the impact of storms and flooding and harbour embattled wildlife. But this work – where it currently exists – is carried out by people who are often poorly paid, or not compensated at all.

Most often, these aren’t recognised workers, but instead, volunteers. This is not only the case for conservation workers in rural areas of Madagascar and Cambodia, but also in cities where waste collectors and people who recycle electronic waste work in abject poverty.

The situation is more dire for those battling the natural disasters that are proliferating in the warming climate. The 2018 wildfire season in California was the deadliest in the state’s history, but much of the fire fighting relied on 2,000 prison inmates who earned just USD$1 a day. 

During Australia’s “black summer” of 2019-20, Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected calls for support payments to 195,000 volunteer firefighters because, in his words, “they want to be there”.

These workers lack the proper pay and protections of an organised workforce, yet their services are increasingly in demand. Collectively, they form an emerging “eco-precariat” that bears little resemblance to the labour movement that’s urgently needed to mitigate the climate and ecological crisis.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a point – volunteers are not there for money. Most of us have done at least some volunteer work in their lifetime. I never expect pay for my volunteer work.

I have a friend who is a senior volunteer firefighter, it is a big commitment which he takes very seriously. He saw action in the recent Aussie bushfires. But his day job he makes very good money as a freelance financial advisor, far more than he could make as a full time firefighter.

If “green gig” workers need more money, in my opinion the answer is simple; they should do a little less volunteering and spend more time making money. I’m grateful for their contribution as volunteers, but nobody expects them to mess up their own life through giving too much of their time to others.

Alternatively they could apply for a permanent job. A volunteer firefighter with a good track record would surely be head of the queue for any firefighter job openings, if they wanted to go full time, at least I hope that is the case.

If volunteers need any other ideas for how to improve their income, they could try talking to their fellow volunteers. You never know, one of their fellow volunteers might be a talented financial advisor.

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mark from the midwest
April 22, 2020 2:13 am

With orange suits, and the $1.17 per hour, 5:30 am roll call, 9:30 lights out, and visitors 3 days a week

Bryan A
Reply to  mark from the midwest
April 22, 2020 10:14 am

I always thought the “Volunteer” meant that you did the work because you believed in it and not for the pay, in fact most “Volunteer” positions are Unpaid
Perhaps they should Unionize

April 22, 2020 2:17 am

I am a volunteer soi dog care person. We go out once a week to check on the condition of the soidogs in our village and to take care of them. I don’t get paid. It is not a job. It is voluntary work that I do from my own free will and that is what makes me a volunteer. What kind of sense does it make to talk about whether volunteers are receiving adequate pay? Mai khao jai.

Reply to  Chaamjamal
April 22, 2020 8:22 am

It will change once volunteers get organized and armed.

April 22, 2020 2:29 am

idiots oughta get a dictionary
Volunteer means UNpaid,
most of them are either workers retired or uni/dole combo
I volunteer for a few things around my area being small town we all need to chip in and do that,
and I see it as a contribution to society for my pension as well
the people who collect seed/plant seedlings/plant trees etc all tended to do it because they cared enough years ago
now it seems they have to be paid enough? to care?
govvy does throw funding to local greengroups etc and always did to cover for pots and mix etc anyway

Decades ago they had a sort of work for dole thing planting trees
ONLY under 25s accepted
claims then became they couldnt run it because??? insurance costs to cover workers!
unpaid but still had to insure. govt cuts its own throat yet again

spangled drongo
April 22, 2020 2:54 am

As a volunteer fire fighter from back in the days when it was done on horseback up to the present where I have been maintaining fire trails for the last 30 years and a Landcare treeplanter too, the last thing I would want is to be paid for those very enjoyable efforts.

There is a certain satisfaction achieved in doing necessary things for nothing.

The only problem is that us volley treeplanters are now causing more work for us volley fire fighters.

john in cheshire
April 22, 2020 3:30 am

What about railway restoration volunteers. I think they should be paid a living wage so they can help keep steam trains going, to provide the CO2 that gives the eco-loons an incentive to volunteer to plant trees and stuff.

April 22, 2020 3:39 am

There is no link between wildfires and climate. So, why bother with such a sharticle particularly when it comes from a known disinformative and propaganda media such as the conversation ?

April 22, 2020 3:47 am

My youngest son is a volunteer firefighter, helped fight the recent fires in northern NSW. We asked him how he felt about it when the greenies raised this issue of pay at the peak of the fires. He said he didn’t sign up expecting to be paid, he has a job, he signed up to help people and to be involved in the community. He was offended that people seemed to be implying that volunteers might expect that they should be paid.

Ex Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been an active firefighter for more than fifteen years, he too helped fight the recent bushfires. Even during his time as Prime Minister he was a regular at his local fire brigade and worked side by side with local volunteers planting trees and regenerating native bushland. He clearly does this work because because he cares, not for financial reward.

These people need to butt out and mind their own business. They interfere, with claims of injustice, pretending that they have an interest in anyone but themselves. They are not happy unless they are bleating about something. Get a life of your own and keep out of other people’s, you are not welcome.

April 22, 2020 4:00 am

There is a lot of money sitting in the coffers of so-called environmental organizations. Why can’t they part with just some of the billions they are sitting on to pay these volunteers? Or, will that require the management in these organizations to live outside their luxury mansions?

April 22, 2020 4:04 am

Leftists pay their volunteers. Provide transport. Signs. Slogans. Food.

Fake grass roots. Fake people. Fake cause. At least they are consistent.

Reply to  DocSiders
April 22, 2020 2:48 pm

Younger generation does not remember a widespread use of Chinese volunteers in Korean War. They actually created the Kim family hereditary paradise.

April 22, 2020 4:17 am

I was wondering, who was pushing for pay to volunteers?

“Get a dictionary” has already been covered in comments, but I wasn’t sure who was pushing the pay issue. It certainly wasn’t the volunteers.

I reread the article and it appears to me that it’s the communist Union Organizers of the type seen in the ’20s and ’30s. They would have a Volunteers Union if they could, Hammer and Sickle in the logo somewhere.
“Volunteers of the World, UNITE and rise up against… [sad trombone].”

Rise up against what, exactly? As already pointed out in comments – 7 showing as I write this – volunteers aren’t doing it for the money. What would they strike for, doubling their volunteer pay? ;o) They can quit at any time with no loss of income if conditions are unacceptable and find somewhere else to volunteer or just stop volunteering.

Organizers gotta organize, but they picked the wrong group here. Thanks to Aussie contributors here, I understand a good bit more of the cultural and political landscape down under than I did a few years ago when I started reading here.

So in answer to my initial question, I’m guessing Labor is looking to beef up their numbers.

April 22, 2020 4:57 am

Volunteers are harder to control than paid staff. They don’t lose financially from getting the boot. They might say something they actually believe rather mouthing than the regular acceptable platitudes. I know rural firefighters who fit this bill.

For much the same reason, although I plant lots of trees, I eschew government Landcare subsidies for greater control over how I do it and how I manage the plantings later on my own land.

Am I simply cynical, or would introducing volunteer payments help the control freaks in the hard left to control a little more? After all, control over the lives of others is what they most seek.

April 22, 2020 5:27 am

The picture of the trees look like a healthy forest, so most likely not government managed.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Scissor
April 22, 2020 8:07 pm

It’s a blurry picture, and I have no idea where it was taken, but it is clear that the trees are conifers and they have been pruned. Looks a little bit like a commercial plantation. Just a guess but Douglas-fir in NZ?

However there is also a paved road with curbs and what looks like a restroom? So possibly a park. The hardwood in the middle is indistinct. The understory is thick with short herbaceous plants. No brush, no ferns. Yellow flowers are possibly something in the mustard family.

Not the wild woods by any stretch.

btw, I have planted or overseen the planting of millions of trees. We did it for pay, moola, cash on the barrel. Not for free! Capitalism gets trees planted. Socialism gets troughers to talk about it.

April 22, 2020 5:45 am

In Canada, logging companies have to plant trees to replace those they cut down. Every year thousands of young Canadians flock to the forests to plant trees. If they’re good at it, they can make good money. link It’s hard work and has been described as a Canadian rite of passage.

If logging companies in some place like Madagascar aren’t replanting trees, there’s something wrong. If Canadian companies can afford to plant relatively cheap SPF (spruce, pine, or fir), surely the companies that log much more valuable trees in the third world can afford to replant them.

April 22, 2020 6:19 am

The issue that gets left out of discussions about the Australian fires in all this is lack of equipment and resources and the responsibility to provide it by certain governments and it’s departments. There are several submissions in front of the Royal Commission at the moment where public reserve/park areas don’t have a single heavy fire fighting equipment and not even a water stand or dam access to fill fire fighting units. There were also instances where equipment that was provided were so in need of repair they broke down and put lives at risk. There is no reason to have paid or unpaid people to fight fires if you don’t have the equipment.

Go to any large farm and they will invariably have heavy equipment and usually a fire unit that fixes to one of their vehicles and are required to keep there fire breaks checked and current each year. Now go to a public park/reserve and about all they will have is emergency assembly points, a fire evacuation plan and a couple of hand held fire extinguishers. Good luck trying to drive any of there fire breaks because they don’t get fined or inspected by a 3rd party.

What I hope and expect before anything else is a minimum standard set for fire fighting resources per area of land that is deemed as high risk. That can be a mix of aerial units, heavy ground vehicles, water downstands and fire units to a formulated minimum.

April 22, 2020 7:48 am

Paid volunteers? Pay makes you an employee.

April 22, 2020 9:07 am

One constant with leftists is that they always want more money.

BTW, isn’t paying volunteers counter intuitive?

April 22, 2020 9:10 am

You guys are missing the point, only their volunteers need to be paid. Only those who are volunteering to fight climate change need to be paid.

April 22, 2020 9:23 am

This ranks up there with getting a receipt at GoodWill donation bin so you write those old clothes off of your taxes being “charity”.

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  2hotel9
April 22, 2020 3:07 pm

2hotel9, I have to disagree with you on this one. Every dollar I deduct from my taxes gives me a dollar I can give to another charity. This allows me to control how my money is used, rather than some swamp creature in Washington.

Reply to  Trying to Play Nice
April 23, 2020 7:15 am

If you deduct it from taxes it is not charity, you don’t get “paid” for charity no matter how it is rationalized.

April 22, 2020 10:05 am

Volunteers make the best environmental workers — and where volunteerism is tied to programs benefiting local communities, the results are terrific.

One NGO group in the Dominican Republic, Sur Futuro, grows tree seedlings for planting by localo communities — communities that receive aid funneled to them for programs that develop local irrigation system and re-forestation, both with native trees and interplanted natives and crops.

In the US, timber companies hire thousands to replant after timber harvests on tree farms.

Both systems work. The volunteers have a local vested interest and take great care with each seedling.

In my experience, people like to volunteer for a variety of reasons. These people would not do the same work for pay….

April 22, 2020 12:25 pm

Interesting that hospital workers, ems, grocery, truckers are all essential services. The people show up say after day.

But Congress is not. The timid mice (rats) scurried back to their lairs at the first sign of trouble.

It is high time that Congress came back to the Capital and did their job. The President and his team are their everyday.

Congress should do the same. Quit hiding. Doctors and nurses are on the job and Congress needs to do the same.

Or admit that Congress is like the Supreme Court. Not essential and close it down.

April 22, 2020 1:48 pm

Since when do VOLUNTEERS get PAID? By whom? One can bet the higher level “pro” activists get a paycheck.

One who “volunteers” for the armed services does get paid. One could say one applies for a defined position within the military, therefore a JOB, not volunteer. When the draft was active, one could argue that given the choice between being drafted with little or no say on service or job it is a type of volunteer.

Much like being the option of quitting before being fired.

young bill
April 22, 2020 4:22 pm

If the Rural Fire Service in Queensland moved to a paid model, our Brigade would cease to exist.

April 22, 2020 4:52 pm

There is such a thing as “Homeless” volunteers.
I see this every time we leave the local market.
At the parking lot exit, the store has a sign which says”Now Hiring”.
There is ALWAYS someone standing behind it with their own sign saying “Homeless, need work, please donate”.
I usually “donate” by asking them to walk around and read the now hiring sign.
If they need that much help, they either can’t read or just don’t want to work.

April 22, 2020 7:28 pm

only their volunteers need to be paid. Only those who are volunteering to fight climate change need to be paid.

April 22, 2020 8:16 pm

What’s the ”climate change front line” ?

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