Should frontline volunteers be paid?

By Taroi Black

During Covid-19 lockdowns volunteers, rushing to help whanau in great need, end up working 13-hour days and using their own cars and petrol to deliver food packs.

Student Volunteer Army founder Sam Johnson says they need to be acknowledged and compensated for their time.

“That should be happening and I don’t know why it isn't.”

The Student Volunteer Army was set up originally to help families whose lives were shattered in the Christchurch earthquake. The organisation operates on goodwill, with an army of 1000 volunteers made up of secondary school and tertiary students helping out where needed. 

Following the fourth Alert Level 3 lockdown, Johnson and some of his team have joined up with Auckland-based Mahurehure Marae to help distribute up to 500 kai parcels to whanau who aren't getting any other help, including from the government.

“If you look back at every crisis, who steps up every time? It's marae,” he said.

It’s what marae chair Christine Panapa has done for more than 50 years. She says it’s all about manàkitanga, and that means her team works from 9am till 10pm, using their own vehicles to distribute the kai parcels across Auckland city.

“It's not about the putea and if you look at all the marae throughout the motu it doesn't matter what the kaupapa is - we all come together and we make it happen,” Panapa says.

However, shouldn't a bit of manàkitanga for volunteer workers be forthcoming from the government since it's doing the government's job?

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkin was asked how the volunteers could be helped. He said, “The best port of call really is to discuss their personal circumstances with the Ministry of Social Development.”

But supporters say that's ironic since the whanau these volunteers are helping are the ones who have fallen through the cracks of  MSD.