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What the Numbers Tell Us

Increases in Volunteers Coincide with Reduction in the Public Sector

The most recent Statistics Canada study on volunteers has shown a significant increase in the number of volunteers from 1987 to 1997. (Statistics Canada 1997 Survey on Giving, Volunteering, and Participating and 1987 Volunteer Activity Survey) The 1997 National Survey revealed that approximately 7.5 million Canadians volunteered their time and skills to groups and organisations across the country in 1997. This is 2.2 million more than the number who volunteered in 1987. These volunteers accounted for 31.4% of the Canadian population aged 15 and over, a participation rate that is 4.6 percentage points higher than the 1987 volunteer rate of 26.8%.

Volunteers contributed a total of just over 1.1 billion hours of their time during the 12-month period ending on October 31, 1997. These hours would have been the equivalent of 578,000 full-time year-round jobs (assuming 40 hours per week for 48 weeks).

Over the ten year period there was an increase of 48,000 full-time year-round job equivalents over the hours contributed in 1987. Comparing data from the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey shows that 71,300 fewer people worked in the public sector in 1997 than 1987. The rise in the rate of number of hours volunteering and the reduction in the public sector isn’t a coincidence.

Rate of Volunteering and Number of Hours Volunteered

Rate of Volunteering 1997 1987
Volunteer participation rate 31.4% 26.8%
Total volunteers (thousands) 7,472 5,337
Total population age 15+ (thousands) 23,808 19,902

Hours Volunteered 1997 1987
Total hours volunteered 1,108,924 1,017,548
Full-time year-round job equivalence* 578,000 530,000
Increase in full-time equivalents 48,000
* Assuming 40 hours per week for 48 weeks

Public Sector Reduction(Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey) 1997 1987
Public employees 2,584,100 2,655,400
Reduction in employees 71,300

Forced Volunteerism and Unpaid Work

With the government cuts to public services, there are greater and greater gaps in services. Voluntary organisations are seeing increasing demand for community services but their budgets are also being slashed. The result has been a serious off-loading to families and communities.

The result has been increasing levels of stress experienced by people trying to balance work and family life. The Conference Board of Canada found in a 1999 study that one in four Canadians have eldercare responsibilities. (Conference Board of Canada (1999) Caring About Caregiving - The Eldercare Responsibilities of Canadian Workers and the Impact on Employers) The study also showed that 6 per cent of working Canadians had more intense responsibilities to family elders such as feeding, dressing, and bathing that added up to 60 hours per month. A 1996 Health Canada Study found that the average working Canadian spent about 4 hours a day caring to children, elders, or doing housework. (Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (1996) How Canadians spend their time, Progress in Prevention Bulletin #6) One in ten of all workers and 17% of women experience excessive levels of stress trying to balance work and family life. It is no coincidence that reports show increasing levels of stress as of health education community and social services are under attack.

Here are some examples of how government cuts and policies have resulted in the emergence of new and troubling forms of unpaid work:

  • Important government services are being cut so families and communities are trying to avoid disaster for their neighbours and families by piecing together some level of replacement for the lost public services.
  • Families can be forced to ‘volunteer’ their services to family members under policies and service guidelines for homecare. Hours can be reduced if family members live within the service area as they are presumed to be providing services.
  • High school students are expected to volunteer as part of their school curriculum.
  • Some employers expect prospective employees to volunteer time with the agency as part of an interview process as the competition process for ‘good jobs’ becomes more intense. There is also competition for ‘good’ voluntary placements to fill out experience to get into university programs.
  • Workfare programs force community participation for many people on welfare. They appear to be volunteers in the workplace even though they are fulfilling mandatory requirements to receive welfare. The impact of increasing workfare targets in Ontario to 30% will mean over 60,000 people will be forced into so-called community placement by 2001.

Examples of What Volunteers Are Doing in CUPE Workplaces


  • Students filling as phone assistants over lunch
  • Parents teaching language arts and math
  • Library helpers shelving books
  • Parents photocopying and working in the office

Social Services

  • Foster parents
  • Filling in for instructors in develop-mentally disabled day programs
  • Doing payroll sheets and other office work
  • Transporting clients to events using the association vehicle


  • Feeding residents
  • Intake counsellors’ duties of giving tours to prospective residents
  • Filing reports on residents
  • Therapy and recreation activities


  • Ice rink maintenance
  • Tree planting
  • Litter clean up
  • Reading programs in the library

Source: Statistics Canada 1997 Survey on Giving, Volunteering, and Participating.

Problems Identified by CUPE Members

  • In one school board students are being used as volunteers on the phones and parents have been asked to pick-up clerical staff work. In one school there are 1,000 students but only one school secretary. Job loss has been at critical levels in school boards.
  • Municipal workers are now seeing dangerous work being done by student volunteers. For example, cleaning litter in ravines by students is dangerous in some areas as there are used needles and other unsanitary objects which are health and safety hazards.
  • Volunteers are feeding residents in old age homes without proper training. Patients that have problems with regurgitation of their food need trained workers taking care of their feeding. Volunteers improperly trained have caused residents to be burned during the feeding process. Often residents are not getting sufficient intake of food with volunteers.
  • Students in schools are now being used as volunteers doing clerical and custodian work. Caretakers in school boards are having their hours re-organised to work split shifts to save money. This creates hazards, as there are gaps in service. One boy was seriously injured while helping a school principle to move a piano.
  • Outdoor community rinks that were once maintained by municipal employees are now left to volunteers. There has been job loss and the rinks are unusable as they haven.t been flooded and cleared properly.
  • Social services workers can’t even identify who is a volunteer and who isn’t. In one workplace there are two volunteers for every CUPE member working. Co-ordinating the work of volunteers and ensuring follow-up puts pressure on CUPE members who are trying to ensure the service is being delivered. Co-ordination of volunteer work increases their workloads.

Impacts of Volunteers Performing Bargaining Unit Work

Impact on Service

  • no effective controls on quality of service and supervision.
  • gaps are inevitable if only volunteers providing the service.
  • inadequate or poor training of volunteers.
  • standard of performance not the same as for employees.
  • employees often have to rectify mistakes made by volunteers.
  • governments use volunteer work as an excuse to cut services or not provide new services.

Impact on CUPE Members

  • decreased employee morale where volunteers do work of the bargaining unit.
  • pool of volunteers are a threat to job security.
  • friction can occur between volunteers and employees.
  • Sometimes friction can occur between CUPE members. Some workers are desperate to cope with excessive workloads and they can.t see that inappropriate use of volunteers will erode the service in the long-run and it takes away from the service being recognised as a public service.
  • volunteers can be used as strike breakers.
  • women in the labour force may be disproportionately affected by the use of unpaid labour because volunteers typically donate time in female dominated sectors.

Impact on Employers and Voluntary Organisations

  • conceals underfunding problems.
  • undermines the employer.s need to increase or maintain funding.
  • may be liable for services provided by untrained persons.
  • volunteer work should enhance a service not try not replace, paid work.
  • if volunteer work illustrates an ongoing need, it should become paid work.

Collective Agreement Language

Why Negotiate Collective Agreement Provisions

  • Protection of bargaining unit work.
  • Monitoring use of volunteers for preparing grievances and collective bargaining.
  • Collection of data to build campaigns to bring volunteer work back to the bargaining unit.
  • Opportunity to put forward the union.s case to new volunteers instead of volunteers feeling the union is thwarting their efforts leading to unnecessary friction between the union and the volunteer.


Some collective agreements restrict the kinds of activities that volunteers can do. For example, in one library agreement volunteers can only decorate the library, water plants, and shelf reading. Restricting volunteers through the work of the bargaining unit work clause is another way to restrict the use of volunteer and unpaid work. Here are some examples:

Example 1:

Work of the Bargaining Unit (CUPE Standard Agreement)

Persons whose jobs (paid or unpaid) are not in the bargaining unit shall not work on any jobs which are included in the bargaining unit, except in cases mutually agreed by the parties.

Example 2:

CUPE Local 382 and the Greater Victoria School Division No. 61 (B.C.)

39.02 Volunteers

Volunteers will not perform tasks that are within any contractual agreements and/or job descriptions of CUPE Local 382, unless mutually agreed to by CUPE Local 382 and the Board, in accordance with Policy 1240, as revised in 1994.

Example 3:

Ontario Council of Hospital Unions

11.02 - Volunteers

The use of volunteers to perform bargaining unit work, as covered by this agreement, shall not be expanded beyond the extent of existing practice as of June 1, 1986.

Effective October 1, 1990, the Hospital shall submit to the Union figures indicating the number of volunteers as of September 20, 1990. Thereafter, the Hospital shall submit to the Union, at three (3) month intervals, the number of volunteers for the current month and the number of hours worked.

Example 4: - Ways of Monitoring Volunteers

The employer will advise the union in writing of the names of new volunteers, the type of services to be performed, and location.

Within the first month of engaging a new volunteer, the employer will provide the union with the opportunity of meeting with the new volunteer during work hours for up to one hour for the purpose of providing an orientation to volunteering in a unionised workplace.

Every three months the employer will provide to the union a report in electronic form on the number of volunteers and the number of volunteer hours used by the employer during the previous three-month period.

Principles for Working Volunteers

Volunteers and voluntary organisations can make valuable contributions to our communities when there is a sound framework of public services within which the sector operates and reliable funding sources for voluntary organisa-tions. However, governments have also cut funding to the voluntary sector so it has lost capacity to deliver services and co-ordinate voluntary activity. Instead, they are left scrambling trying to raise funds to keep bare bone operations in place. Working with volunteers and the voluntary sector presents new challenges in the context of the fight against privatisation and the struggle to promote public services.

CUPE policy on volunteers is set in this context and suggests criteria for locals to keep in mind:

  • Employers should not be allowed to replace or displace staff with volunteers. An essential job on a continuing basis should be a paid job.
  • Employers should not be allowed to use volunteers as providers of ongoing service, but rather they should add something extra (for instance, more personal contact).
  • If volunteer activity illustrates an ongoing need, then the work should become paid work. Once the pioneering or supplementing is over, the jobs should be permanent.

There have been tensions with volunteers working in unionised work settings. The union is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the collective agreement and trying to preserve public sector jobs. The volunteer is taking direction from the employer and is just trying to help out. They are often the victims in the struggle between the employer and the union over what is appropriate activity for a volunteer. The union has no formal way to communi-cate with the volunteer if there is no provision in the collective agreement. Often the volunteer feels the union has prevented them from performing their volunteer activities. Over time the labour movement and the voluntary sector have developed principles to follow when volunteers work in unionised work settings. These principles can be useful tools in providing orientation to volunteers. The following is an example from the Volunteer Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Labour. There is also a 1988 Agreement with the United Way and the Canadian Labour Congress.

Check with your Federation of Labour to see if an accord exists in your province.

The Ontario Federation of Labour and Volunteer Ontario 1996
Principles on the Role of Volunteers and Paid Workers in Non-Profit
Organizations and Public Institutions



  1. Voluntary activity is that which is undertaken
    by choice;
    in service to individuals informally or through organizations;
    without salary or wage

    People required to do unpaid mandatory service placements such as community service orders, co-op placements, or workfare assignments, etc., are not volunteers.

  2. Social and fiscal policy must create an environment in which such activity can occur. This means public policies which make for full employment at decent wages, accessible public education and training, housing, a strong social safety net, food, peace, a clean environment and a safe workplace. Both paid work and voluntary community service promote self-esteem and skills development.

  3. There is a need for strong stable public services adequately funded and maintained providing essential and complementary services and programs to all Canadians through non-profit organizations and public institutions.

  4. Within this web of services and programs, there is room and appropriate roles for both paid workers and volunteers.

  5. Society must recognize the value of volunteer activity in complementing public services and the need for stable support for the infrastructure of volunteering which includes volunteer centres and the professional administration of volunteer programs.

  6. There is a need for balance and appropriate division between the role of volunteers along with paid workers, support for the maintenance of that distinction and recognition of the value of both volunteer and paid work.

  7. Profits should not be made from the promotion of voluntary activity or the placement of volunteers.

  8. In unionized workplaces the collective agreement provides the dispute resolution process.

  9. Co-operative decisions about the role of volunteers must be made within the above principles.

  10. Decisions shall be based on specific criteria concerning the levels, types and conditions of voluntary activities.

Strategies to Win the Fight for Public Services - Volunteers

  • Survey the use of volunteers at your workplace.
  • Try to define appropriate use of volunteers in your workplace.
  • Share information on volunteer use among CUPE locals.
  • Explain the problems with inappropriate use of volunteers to CUPE members.
  • Speak to members of your local board to convince them on the perils of inappropriate use of volunteers.
  • Explain your position to the volunteers that are in your workplace and provide them with information on how volunteers and unions can work together.
  • Negotiate collective agreement language and enforce it.

Example of a Local Fighting Back

Winnipeg city council wades out of contracting out

In 1998 Winnipeg city council introduced a plan that handed maintenance of 96 city wading pools to volunteer community groups. Council had originally proposed that all pools and arenas be turned over to local community groups but 5,000 signatures on CUPE cards opposing these measures forced council to scale back its plans. In the end, only 11 of 74 community groups wanted to take part in the contracting out experiment, assuming responsibility for 16 wading pools.

The pilot plan was a failure. What was supposed to save the city more than $100,000 ended up costing thousands of extra dollars to administer and supervise.

Contracting out the management and operation of the centres to community volunteers raised serious liability issues. With annual turnover on the centre.s boards, there was no guarantee that contracts would be administered in the same way from year to year, leaving the door open to health and safety problems. The service contracts left the city liable for any violations.

Only one of the volunteer groups was willing to take on pool operations again in 1999. All the centres supported municipal employees taking over the tasks. Members of CUPE 580 are once again at work in all of Winnipeg.s pools.

Community groups didn.t want the responsibility for delivering this service and knew city employees had the resources and the time to do it best.