On 10 October 2017 I was invited to speak on behalf of Volonteurope at the European Parliament joint CULT and EMPL Committees Public Hearing on the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) proposal.
The purpose of the hearing was to debate the objective and effectiveness of the ESC as it is currently outlined in the proposal from the European Commission. A number of important questions were debated regarding the ESC format and form, objectives and implementation, quality and inclusiveness, as well as its reliance on existing EU programmes and funds.
Volunteering Matters, as you know, has been actively engaged in the EuroVIP project, a Key Action 2 Strategic Partnership initiative of the Erasmus+ Programme; it has also, to date, been successfully involved, either as a partner or lead organisation, in a number of other Key Action 2, 1 and 3 cross-border projects. Therefore, as Secretary General of Volonteurope and based on consultation with members and partners, I presented a thorough response to a list of questions put forward to the Public Hearing contributors by the European Parliament.
First and foremost, one of our big concerns is the reallocation of funds from the Erasmus+ budget (particularly from the EVS line), between 2018-2020, to ESC: close to 58% of the ESC allocation in those three years will come from Erasmus+ and while the vast majority coming from the EVS budget (KA1), it still nevertheless concerns us in terms of the possible detrimental impact on other Erasmus+ actions, such as Strategic Partnerships. We are also concerned about the successor to the Erasmus+ programme when it comes to the negotiations on the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework from 2020 onwards, and what allocations would be provided to the different key actions as they currently exist in the Erasmus+ Programme.
Another important issue which I addressed is the criticism that is often voiced that, under the current proposal for ESC (with its two strands, occupational and volunteering), some quality jobs risk to be replaced by unpaid volunteering, with employers potentially choosing full time free volunteers over paid regular workers. We as Volonteurope agree with this criticism and therefore would argue that the placements under the volunteering strand should be funded to voluntary sector, civil society, youth organisations, not-for-profit foundations, social enterprises, rather than the private sector, as this would reduce this risk. These organisations, under a quality label, work in the ethos of not replacing jobs with full-time volunteers.
There should also be a distinction in the quality label for volunteering placements and for the occupational strand, and in the latter, social partners should be included to ensure that the jobs offered under ESC offer quality work, rather than cheap labour. Overall, the ESC design at the moment is lacking a very clear distinction between the two strands and their delivery, which creates the fear and criticism as mentioned in this question. There are also not enough provisions in place for quality objectives in employment placements specified, which thus brings me back to my earlier point about the danger of running precarious, cheap labour, work placements in the employment strand of the ESC.
We do believe that the for-profit sector should participate in the employment strand (not the volunteering strand); however, social partners, job centres or equivalent employment services should be engaged in the design and monitoring of the strand, to ensure that the work offered is quality and rewarding work.
There is also an important role for the private sector to play in the possible success of using ESC volunteering strand as an important pathway to gaining skills through volunteering that the private sector would recognise as valid skills which make a young person more job-ready. Potentially, the ESC could have a positive effect on the labour market thinking specifically if employers are targeted at the same time as the programme is being implemented, with an encouragement to recognise the experience gained by ESC participants in the volunteering strand as genuine skills that make a young person more prepared for the labour market.
Here, again, we should see a concerted effort of all relevant stakeholders; not least employers who are already market leaders in recognising the value of skills gained through volunteering amongst their prospective employees. Civil society organisations who are experienced in working with the corporate sector in employee volunteering schemes should be also actively engaged in this process. The use of excellent tools such as ProfilPASS, re-developed through the EuroVIP project, should be encouraged and promoted in the ESC initiative.
Piotr Sadowski, Secretary General of Volonteurope