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Labor Laws

Several issues can arise when Labor Codes fail to distinguish between regular employment and volunteer work. For example, in almost all of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union), it is prohibited for any person to work without pay. Although volunteer activity does take place in these countries, because the law does not distinguish between volunteers and employees it is often technically illegal to work as a volunteer. As a result volunteers and volunteer-involving organizations stand on tenuous legal ground and may restrict the scope of their activities for fear of government action. Volunteer legislation that explicitly amends existing Labor Codes is now being developed in many former Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Similarly, if there is no legal distinction between volunteers and employees, unemployed persons may refuse to volunteer for fear that their participation in volunteer “work” would cause them to lose their unemployment benefits. This was the case until quite recently in the Czech Republic. Other side effects of strict labor codes that do not differentiate between volunteerism and other work include inadvertent prohibitions on informal volunteerism (as was the case in Croatia and Macedonia because their labor codes required written, signed employment agreements for all work) and bans on reimbursement of volunteer expenses (as in Latvia, where any reimbursement of volunteers would have subjected CSOs to minimum wage rules and cause volunteers to be treated as paid employees).

Social Insurance and Tax Laws

Social insurance and tax laws can also create obstacles to volunteerism, most often by requiring CSOs that utilize volunteers to pay into social security programs or by requiring volunteers who receive reimbursement of their expenses (or small honorariums) to pay income tax. Prior to recent legislative reforms,

Switzerland volunteer disincentive and Belgium reimbursements, to expanded both taxed creating volunteerism. In Macedonia, the 2007 Law on Volunteering exempted expenses related to volunteering from taxation and specified explicitly that unemployed persons do not lose their entitlement benefits if they volunteer, removing obstacles to volunteerism by unemployed persons and creating incentives for volunteerism by all persons in a single bill s Similarly, Russian legislation passed in 2007 requires CSOs to report their average number of volunteers as part of their overall “number of employees,” a provision that may be interpreted to mean that volunteer-involving CSOs must pay social security and other tax contributions for their volunteers. Such an interpretation by federal tax authorities could have a chilling effect on volunteerism as CSOs with limited resources may not be able to meet these tax obligations.

Immigration Laws

International volunteerism can make a major contribution to domestic development, but in many countries immigration laws present obstacles to the entrance of foreign volunteers. Simplification of the immigration and visa regime may accrue substantial benefits for the host country. For example, the Philippines’ Act No. 9418 on Strengthening Volunteerism (2007) stipulates that foreign volunteers (as well as their dependants) entering the Philippines to work on approved projects are entitled to multiple entry visas and are exempted from visa and immigration fees. Similarly, South Africa amended the Immigration Act in 2004 to make it easier for international volunteers to obtain visas.


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