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Voluntary Labour
Summary of results of ABS 1995 survey on voluntary labour

In 1995 the Australian Bureau of Statistics asked 56,000 people over 15 years of age about whether they willingly gave unpaid help in the form of time, service or skills through an organisation or group.

The results showed that 19% provided some form of voluntary work during the preceding 12 month period, but there was considerable demographic variation. In the larger cities the rate was lower (12% in Sydney, 16% across the 6 state capitals) and higher in the rural areas (an average of 24% outside the 6 state capitals, and up to 33% in rural South Australia.

The volunteer rate was higher for females than males: 21% compared with 17%, while the rate for persons born in non-English-speaking countries was only 9%, compared with 21% for those whose first language was English.

Volunteering appeared to be an extension of family and community commitments though was supplanted by the work ethic among bread-winners. The highest volunteer rate was amongst the 35-44 age group and women with dependent children volunteered at a rate of 30% compared with rates of around 20% for women without children or males with or without dependents in the same age group. Sports, recreational, hobby, educational, training and youth development work was the dominant activity for this peak of activity around the age of 40, while welfare and community work engaged people fairly evenly across age groups though peaking at around 55, and religious work involved more people than welfare/community work at any age group but was predominantly the concern of the over 55s. However, educational work involved 25% of volunteers as compared with religious work which engaged only 18%, but this 18% tended to be people who worked for the organisation for a longer time. Sports and recreational groups engaged 43% of all male volunteers while the welfare/community and educational/youth development groups each engaged about 33% of women volunteers.

Two-thirds of volunteers were in part or full-time work, but there was a strong correlation between the volunteer rate and the kind of volunteer work in which a person was engaged and their line of employment. Professionals and managers had a rate of 30% while labourers and operatives had a rate of 12%, and 59% of managers and professionals had engaged in management and committee work compared to 41% overall, while tradespeople had been involved in repairs, maintenance and gardening 38% compared to 18% overall. Those employed in health and community service volunteered in the health field 17% compared to 7% overall, those employed in education, volunteered in education and youth development 39% compared with 25% overall and so on across various industries.

When asked about the kind of work performed, 47% had engaged in fundraising, 41% in committee work. Gender segregation was very marked with 40% of females compared with 15% of males involved in food preparation, whereas males outnumbered females 30% to 9% in repairs, maintenance and gardening, 10% to 3% in search and rescue, first aid and fire-fighting, and 21% to 11% in coaching and refereeing.

When asked how they got involved in the first place, it appeared that 30% had been asked by someone else, 28% got involved through family connections and only 4% responded to a media report or advertisement.

When asked about the benefits they were getting from their participation, 60% of volunteers listed "personal satisfaction", while "social contact", "helping others", "supporting the community", "doing something worthwhile" were each mentioned by about one-third of respondents.

When asked about the hours worked over the period of 12 months, the median was one and a half hours per week (2 hours for the oldest age-group), while one-third had contributed 12 hours a month or more and about 2% had given more than 1,000 hours in the year.

The cultural and recreational organisations got a median of 60 hours per annum from volunteers while political, union and professional organisations got a median of 27 hours per annum from their volunteers.

The health, educational, religious and environmental organisations got more hours from their female volunteers than from their male volunteers, with religious organisations getting a median of 60 hours per annum from female volunteers. The arts/culture and foreign/international groups got more 50% hours from their male than their female volunteers.

What conclusions can be drawn from these statistics? Without any information about whether these figures are declining or rising it is difficult. The significantly lower rate of volunteering in the metropolis as compared to the countryside is not encouraging from our point of view, inasmuch as one might imagine that the cities are further down whatever historical path it is we are on. However, there are a couple of general rules: