Key considerations for managing and protecting your volunteer workforce

by bqmedia on March 8, 2022

By Matt Bradford ph: 07 3224 0353

Like most grassroots sporting organisations, bowls clubs are often reliant on the contributions of volunteers. In fact, Sport Australia estimates that volunteers donate 158 million hours to sport in Australia each year, or the equivalent of almost 90,000 full-time jobs.

In the words of the former Sport Australia CEO Kate Palmer, “Research has conservatively valued that contribution at $3 billion, but to me and the Australian sporting industry our volunteers are priceless – they are the backbone of the Australian sport industry.”

Despite so many volunteers contributing their time to bowls and other sporting clubs, these organisations sometimes overlook many of the legal issues and requirements surrounding volunteers. As such, this article provides insight into some of the key questions your bowls club should consider in relation to the use of volunteers.

Are your volunteers truly volunteers?

Clubs often get themselves into trouble when they do not properly consider this question. The general rule is that true volunteers are not paid for assistance they provide, and do not have any legal obligation to provide ongoing assistance. However, merely labelling someone as a volunteer does not make them so. In particular, you should be cautious about situations where someone starts out performing work free of charge, but your club then later decides to start making some sort of payment to the person. If your club gets this wrong, the person may be regarded as an employee at law and may therefore be entitled to benefits such as superannuation, annual leave, and the like.

Volunteer safety

There are four main aspects to volunteer safety:

  1. Even in situations where a volunteer is providing assistance to your club, it is important that workplace health and safety considerations are front of mind. Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld), your club has various obligations to ensure the health and safety of all workers, including volunteers. Moreover, volunteers themselves also have certain duties to take reasonable care to ensure their own health and safety, and the health and safety of others, and volunteers must comply (so far as they are reasonably able) with any reasonable instruction given to them by your club to ensure the safety of the workplace.
  2. In Queensland, volunteers are protected by various laws prohibiting discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment, so it is important that your club has suitable policies and procedures in place to protect volunteers against such behaviour.
  3. Remember that your club owes a duty of care to its volunteers and as such, if a volunteer suffers loss or injury as a result of your negligence, they may have a claim against your club.
  4. In some situations, your club may be “vicariously liable” for the actions of volunteers performing work on behalf of your club.

In light of the above, it is important your club has appropriate insurances in place to protect not only against harm suffered by volunteers while performing work for your club, but also to protect against harm caused by volunteers acting on your behalf.

Service of liquor by volunteers

If your venue or event is exempt from requiring a liquor licence or permit under the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld), then volunteers are not required to have responsible service of alcohol (RSA) certification.

If your venue does have a liquor licence or permit in place, then volunteers serving or supplying alcohol are not required to hold RSA certification if performing duties under one of the following licence or permit categories:

  • community club licence (which will apply to most bowls club premises);
  • community other licence;
  • community liquor permit; or
  • restricted liquor permit.

In this instance, however, your club must ensure a person with current RSA training is available to supervise the volunteers. Penalties apply for non-compliance.

As Kate Palmer so aptly described, volunteers are indeed “the backbone” of the industry. Therefore, given the important role they play and the invaluable contribution they make to a club’s culture, it is essential to ensure you are correctly dealing with the above issues to not only look after the interest of your club, but also the interests of your volunteers.


MATT BRADFORD ON: 07 3224 0353