SLOVAKIA is one of the few countries in Europe which does not have a law dealing with the issues involved in volunteering. While other countries with different traditions may not face any problems in this area, Slovak organisations which seek volunteers have been asking for such a law for several years, as Slovakia’s labour offices have sometimes viewed volunteers as illegal workers and organisations using volunteers have had problems determining exactly how to account for peripheral costs involved with volunteer activities. It now seems that a law may be adopted in Slovakia during the European Year of Volunteering, as newly-drafted legislation is now undergoing the government’s internal approval procedure and it is expected to go to parliament later this year.
“The benefit of the law for us will be that we will finally have a definition of who a volunteer is,” Alžbeta Mračková, the executive director of C.A.R.D.O., Slovakia’s National Volunteer Centre, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that her organisation helped initiate preparation of the proposed legislation.
Alžbeta Brozmanová Gregorová from the Volunteering Centre in Banská Bystrica, who was also active in drafting the bill, said she believes that the law could help create the conditions to elevate the status of volunteers in the eyes of the public and broaden opportunities for volunteer work in various kinds of organisations.
Discussions about the need for a volunteering law in Slovakia date back to at least 2002 and efforts to move legislation forward intensified as part of the run up to the parliamentary election in June 2010.
“We wrote to all relevant political parties,” said Mračková, adding that Jana Žitňanská, an MP from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), was one of the persons who responded to her organisation’s call.
Žitňanská initiated a working group which prepared a first draft of a law on volunteering and invited representatives of NGOs with tangible experience working with volunteers in Slovakia or abroad to cooperate and add their ideas.
The draft legislation was submitted by the Interior Ministry for interdepartmental review, which wrapped out on May 18 and parliament is expected to approve the bill some time in late 2011 to mark the end of the European Year of Volunteering.
“The main reason leading to initiation of the law on volunteering was to define volunteering as a generally acknowledged activity carried out by people in the public interest,” Žitňanská told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the law should also clearly define a volunteer as a person who, without desire for a reward and on the basis of his or her own personal decision, provides a service to the benefit of a third party.
Mračková said such a law will help prevent situations when volunteers are viewed as illegal workers, noting that this has happened several times in social facilities and senior centres during checks by labour inspectors. Moreover, she said the new legislation will enable organisations to properly include the peripheral costs they encounter when using volunteers into their financial accounting.
She noted that this is currently a problem because volunteers are not considered to be employees or members of the organisation they volunteer to help.
Volunteer organisations have also asked that the new legislation resolve the issue of how to include volunteered time into the requirements for qualifying for an old-age pension in Slovakia. Currently, volunteer work is not recognised in any way under the state pension scheme, the organisations said.
The new legislation should also clarify the matter of formal agreements which cover the basis on which volunteers provide volunteer assistance.
The draft law does not deal with financial support on the part of the state government for volunteering and both Mračková and Brozmanová Gregorová view this as a problem.
“A large and a significant area which has not made it to the draft law is financial support for volunteering and volunteering centres,” said Brozmanová Gregorová. “I perceive this as one of the basic preconditions for development of volunteering in future years.”
Mračková said that the law on volunteering in the Czech Republic covered certain state subsidies.
Mračková noted that during drafting of the proposed law, wording was included that would oblige an organisation to have third-party liability insurance and an accident insurance policy for each person volunteering for the organisation in Slovakia or abroad.
She said she agreed with the latter requirement but said the obligation to have these insurance policies for volunteers within Slovakia would end volunteering programmes here because organisations would not have sufficient funds to do so. She said she hoped this matter would be resolved during the government’s approval process.
Waiting for the final version
Slovak volunteers and volunteer organisations must wait for the final version of the legislation but are hopeful that it will turn out to be more about facilitating the work of volunteers and will not have the opposite effect. Mračková emphasised that her organisation certainly does not want a law that limits volunteer organisations or puts new or expanded administrative burdens on them.
“There are experiences from other countries where a law on volunteering was initiated but completely different concepts that burdened organisations were adopted,” Mračková said, adding that “volunteering is so spontaneous that some areas should be not addressed by a law at all.”
6. Jun 2011 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková