The amiable and popular Chief Commissioner of the Scout Association in the United Kingdom recently highlighted on his blog (link below) the 5% of his time spent dealing with adult related disputes.
Wayne Bulpitt’s demeanor and approach to such disputes is clearly impressive, given many scouters in Ireland involved in managing such disputes might apportion a higher percentage of their time to such pursuits.
In the midst of his blog, the UK Chief Commissioner referenced the musings of a fellow member who advocated the establishment of a ‘union’ for scouters.
Whilst unions today have arguably been given a bad press by intransigent leadership and an occasional apparent distance from reality, the origin of the union movement stemmed from workers having no representation and thus being susceptible to exploitation by managers and others higher up the organisational food chain.
During the industrial revolution and into the era of mass produced goods, relationships between management and unions were often fraught, with mistrust on both sides leading to sometimes-fierce disagreements.
Today, union membership is in decline in the main thanks to the proliferation of EU-driven employment laws, which arguably make the union role in protecting the interests of employees superfluous.
But do volunteer scouters need a union to represent their interests?
A very eminent scouter once acknowledged to theirishscouter that Scouting Ireland’s disputes procedures are more about the protection of the institution than they are about the protection of the interests of individual members. The same scouter, a former National Officer also acknowledged that in his experience, volunteers were sometimes let down rather badly when something went wrong – in part due to a weak or poorly implemented framework but also due to the paucity of strong advocates with personnel skills capable of managing the awkward or difficult situations that occur from time to time.
When a scouter makes a mistake, exercises an error of judgment or is simply involved in a personality clash with another scouter, the Group Leader or County Commissioner is often the first port of call. In the instances where the GL or CC are capable of doing their job and can exercise good and fair judgment having understood the situation and the circumstances and people involved, many issues can be satisfactorily and fairly dealt with.
Unfortunately, even with the minority of GL’s and CC’s who lack training or experience or are simply bad at their job, there are still far too many instances of scouters getting a raw deal, when a dispute arises. This needs to change.
One solution would be the creation of an advocacy team in Scouting Ireland, staffed (with volunteers) who have experience and expertise in mediation, negotiation and people skills. This team, potentially working under the auspices of the Chief Commissioner (Adult Resources) could seek to represent a scouter who has gotten themselves, sometimes through no fault of their own, into trouble. Such a team could also play a central role in seeking to resolve disputes between scouters, where this occurs.
There is little confidence around the strength of the association’s disputes procedures among those who have engaged with or passed through them. Feelings of bias, collusion, lack of transparency and, most tellingly, a lack of fairness in the process are common themes shared by those who have had cause to find themselves in this predicament.
A badly handled disputes resolution process can leave a volunteer embittered, disillusioned and feeling like they were ‘shafted’. This matters because any scouter could find themselves in this situation and the association’s policy makers owe it to members (themselves included) to ensure that fairness and natural justice is not just done, but is seen to be done, every time.
A specialist team that can build up a proven track record for fairness and consistency over time and which is seen to be completely independent, free of perceived bias and insulated from political interference could deliver a very positive solution in the medium to long term in this important area.
It’s not quite the ‘union’ that Mr Bulpitt’s colleague suggested, but it might, ironically, avoid the need for one, if scouters can have full confidence in how the association deals with disputes…