Volunteering in Wholefoods, an open letter

Thursday, 13.09.12

An Open Letter to the MSA Executive:

A Case for the Re-introduction of the Wholefoods Volunteer Meal Voucher System and the Re-hiring of a Wholefoods Collective appointed Volunteers’ Coordinator

Dear MSA Executive (Esther, Freya and Olga)

We are writing to reiterate our concerns regarding the decision the MSA Executive made this year to entirely abolish the Wholefoods Volunteer Meal Voucher System – a thirty-five year old legacy of Wholefoods, predating Wholefoods status as an MSA department – as well as the decision not to reinstate the Wholefoods Volunteers Coordinator position to facilitate that system.

From our meetings of late it appears to us that the MSA still maintains the following positions:

  • Wholefoods, being a department of the MSA, must adopt the MSA Volunteer Reward Program and function under no other volunteer system but this one. To institute an alternative system  would be against ‘MSA policies’ and even constitute an unlawful act.
  • Wholefoods must adopt the MSA Volunteer Reward Program as to maintain a sense of equality within the greater MSA volunteer network
  • Wholefoods volunteers must comply with the MSA Volunteer Policy and thus must have appropriate OH&S and Food and Safety training
  • The MSA will not re-hire a Wholefoods Volunteers’ Coordinator for two reasons:

i.                It would be negligent on the MSA’s part to hire someone when their period of employment is uncertain (as Wholefoods Collective commence research into becoming incorporated)

ii.              The roles and responsibilities of a Wholefoods Volunteers’ Coordinator already fall under the position description of the MSA Volunteer Coordinator.

In this letter we address each of the concerns listed above  and also share with you some serious concerns of our own.

Wholefoods, being a department of the MSA, must adopt the MSA Volunteer Reward Program and function under no other volunteer system but this one. To do so would be against ‘MSA policies’.

1. We strongly oppose the MSA Volunteer Reward Program on the basis that is it not fair on Wholefoods, Wholefoods’ volunteers or the MSA for the following reasons:

  • Relative to how the Wholefoods volunteer system once worked, the MSA Volunteer Reward Program is inadequate and has critical shortcomings. The program shows a poor understanding of just how valuable (socially, functionally, morally and economically) Wholefoods volunteers are to Wholefoods. The program completely disregards and  undermines our hugely successful 35 year-old volunteer system that was integral to the institution of Wholefoods itself.
  • Wholefoods was started as an all-volunteer, student-run food outlet. From the very first bowl of dahl served till today, volunteers have been the lifeblood of Wholefoods. We believe that this lifeblood has been completely sucked dry this year.
  • The projected loss of $60,000+ for Wholefoods in 2012 is frankly alarming and unacceptable. It is the highest loss Wholefoods has ever incurred in its history and we believe that the MSA’s annulment of a Volunteers’ Coordinator position in 2010, the abolition of the volunteer system in 2012 and the hierarchical implementation of expensive full-time managers this same year is the primary cause for this deficit.
  • We need a system in place that understands the importance of volunteers, that appreciates and rewards them meaningfully.
  • The MSA Volunteer Reward Program grossly undervalues the work of Wholefoods’ volunteers. Where Wholefoods volunteers once worked 1 hour for one meal ticket, under the new MSA Volunteer Reward Program, they are now required to work 15 hours for one meal ticket equivalent. (How? 1 hour volunteered and logged rewards volunteers with 1 point. Accruing 6 points gets you a $3 MSA voucher. You must now volunteer 15 hours to earn the equivalent of an old Wholefoods meal voucher – $7.50).
  • To put this in to perspective, volunteers work on average 1 – 3 hours a week at Wholefoods. This means they will need to wait at least 5 weeks before they are even rewarded their first meal. As an existing precedent, we are in favour of programs like the MSA’s Host Scheme whereby hosts get free meals/drinks at every event they volunteer at. Rewarding volunteers is a vital part of creating any relationship whereby volunteers feel respected, appreciated and valued.
  • The MSA Volunteer Reward Program rewards points based on ‘skills’. This point system arbitrarily compares skills of different MSA Departments i.e. The Bikery, Host Scheme, Monash Uni Student Theatre (MUST) and Wholefoods. Skills required in the Wholefoods kitchen will be different to skills required to host an info night for Host Scheme and these skills cannot be compared and tallied up in a point system that proclaims to be  fair. We believe this system is arbitrary, pre-mature in its development and does not cater to, nor foster, the uniqueness of each Department.
  • Previous MSA Executive concerns about the Wholefoods Meal Voucher Volunteering System constituting an ‘employment relationship’ with volunteers are easily circumvented with a Memorandum of Understanding signed by prospective volunteers (advice from Volunteering Victoria). This practice of exchanging a meal for volunteer labor is commonplace among many not-for-profit volunteer based organisations across the country. Alternatively, the MSA Volunteer Agreement document already does this and the MSA Volunteer Policy (points 1 and 6) alludes to such understandings.

We understand the necessity for all volunteer programs to comply with MSA Volunteer Policy and recognise the mention of the Volunteer Reward System (point 6) in such document. This is not our main point of contention.
Not only have the Executives of the MSA insisted upon the overhaul of a well- functioning volunteer system and replaced it with one that is clearly incompetent and costly, the transition has been conducted in a highly non-transparent manner. We are yet to see any documents that stipulate that all MSA Department volunteers must fall under the new MSA Volunteer Reward Program, and abandon any existing volunteer system of their own.

We would greatly appreciate a copy of this document as soon as possible – this is something that should have taken place in semester one and involved the appointed Volunteers Co-officers of Wholefoods and the Wholefoods Collective, people who are directly involved with the management of volunteers inside the space.
Wholefoods must adopt the MSA Volunteer Reward Program to help maintain a sense of equality within the greater MSA volunteer network.

1.       Wholefoods is a student-run restaurant, for students, by students. Students and non-students alike can volunteer at Wholefoods. There are no exclusions. Wholefoods’ old volunteer system was there for everyone to enjoy and benefit from. In fact, the system ensured that all volunteers could be fed at least one meal each day – no other department can guarantee a service such as this. If anything, Wholefoods has  provided a service and opportunity that enriches the MSA volunteering network and the general student body alike.

2.       Wholefoods has sustained this volunteer system for nearly 35 years. It is a system that has been working since the day of its inception in 1977. With significantly reduced rewards, volunteering at Wholefoods will appeal to a less diverse group of students. Less appeal means fewer volunteers, a reduction in the vibrancy of our pulsating community, less income and inevitably, an increase to food prices.

3.       Having volunteers keeps costs and stress levels down. It also means that work-load is better divided, there is less time-stress on staff and more quality food can be produced. Better food means more patrons. More patrons means better chances of breaking even at the end of the year.

4.       We reject the notion that the Wholefoods reward system is unfair to other volunteers within the MSA volunteer community. Wholefoods volunteers should not be penalized on the basis that  it makes other volunteer systems appear inferior. The Meal Voucher System has always worked well for Wholefoods and it would be ignorant, offensive and highly defamatory to suggest that volunteers and this system are to blame for any years of financial deficit.

Wholefoods volunteers must comply with the MSA Volunteer Policy and agree to the MSA Volunteer Agreement and thus must have appropriate OH&S and Food Safety training

We acknowledge the MSA Volunteer Policy and have set out the following to ensure that we comply with the standards it sets out. The Wholefoods Collective will:

1.       Take up Monash Short Courses’ offer to provide government funded Food, Safety and Handling certificate training to all prospective Wholefoods volunteers, free of charge

2.       Ensure all volunteers complete the online OH&S training (via Monash Safety Induction Program) before volunteering

3.       Ensure that volunteers are accompanied by a Wholefoods Staff member during each volunteer shift so that there is adequate training and guidance

The MSA will not re-hire a Wholefoods Volunteers’ Coordinator for two reasons:

1.      It would be negligent to hire someone in a time when their contract end-date is uncertain (as Wholefoods Collective commence research into becoming incorporated)

While we genuinely appreciate the concern MSA Executive have for the job security of future Wholefoods staff, the Wholefoods Collective will ensure that  no coordinator will be  left behind when, or if Wholefoods makes the transition into becoming incorporated next year. To substantiate our gesture, we have collectively agreed to signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a Collective appointed Wholefoods Volunteers’ Coordinator to ensure that their position does not become redundant once the hand-over has occurred and that an incorporated Wholefoods Collective will see them through to the end-date outlined in their initial contract with the MSA.

2.                   The roles and responsibilities of a Wholefoods Volunteers’ Coordinator already fall under the position description of the MSA Volunteer Coordinator.

While we appreciate the work completed by the MSA Volunteer Coordinator thus far, we believe it is important that Wholefoods have its own Volunteers’ Coordinator who is appointed by the Wholefoods Collective as has been the case in the past.

Wholefoods deals with hundreds of volunteers and our O-week stalls, induction and training sessions can be particularly idiosyncratic. It is expected that the Volunteers’ Coordinator be an active member of Collective meetings and report back at Collective meetings once a month. On top of that, Wholefoods has its own Constitution that forms the backbone of the café, restaurant and space. Our Volunteers’ Coordinator should be someone who understands and values our Constitution or someone who has experience working in a space with a similar anti-hierarchical, collective-run set-up to Wholefoods.

We believe what we have outlined so far has provided you with sufficient grounds to understand where we are coming from and what we would like to be working towards.

To summarise we will reiterate our main demands:

  • That the successful Wholefoods Volunteer Meal Voucher system be immediately reinstated with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by each prospective volunteer, outlining that any reward for their service is given as an honoraria and is not a substitute for wages.
  • That a Wholefoods Collective approved Wholefoods Volunteers’ Coordinator be immediately appointed at the behest of the Wholefoods Collective to facilitate the re-introduction of volunteers into the space.

Wholefoods volunteers have always played a key role in the operations of Wholefoods. Their work deserves to be acknowledged and treated with due respect and appreciation. The MSA Volunteer Reward Program does not acknowledge this hard work and in-fact has been highly unfavourable amongst our Grocery volunteers this year. We hold strong reservations about enforcing such a program on our volunteers and trust that the Executive can work with us on bringing back the successful, viable and highly popular Wholefoods Volunteer Meal Voucher system.

We will be CC’ing  in the Wholefoods Collective e-list to this email and letter and emailing Friends of Wholefoods to put this up on their blog and Facebook page. We believe what we have touched on in this email needs to be publicised as there has been much silence and secrecy surrounding the Wholefoods Volunteer system this year.

If we can work together in achieving our outlined demands we believe the relationship between the MSA Executive and Wholefoods will remain harmonious in the interim period between now and a potential incorporation.
We look forward to hearing back from you promptly.

R-Coo and Urvi
(Wholefoods Volunteer Co-officers on behalf of the Wholefoods Collective)

Published in: on September 16, 2012 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

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