The work of body corporate committee members is unquantified and the work they do goes unseen.
In Tower’s recent survey of body corporate owners, we asked whether owners would favour making payments to committee members for the work they do. Some 45 per cent of respondents said they preferred to keep committees as a volunteer organisation, while a further 20 per cent indicated that any such payments would just be viewed as an additional cost.
It’s understandable that owners aren’t looking to pay more for the running of their building, but perhaps the responses also reflect the extent to which the volunteer work of Committees is underestimated because it doesn’t appear as a line item on the budget.
Understanding the Unpaid Economy
If we look at the broader economy, it is now increasingly recognised that unpaid work, usually performed by women in the form of child and elderly care and domestic duties, is a substantial contributor to the national output representing as much as a third of formal GDP. Here’s a nice paper on the topic if you are interested in these things: Understanding the unpaid economy.
There is no comparative study for the body corporate industry, but for anyone with experience of how buildings are run on a day to day basis, it won’t take a great leap of the imagination to draw a parallel between the mostly unpaid work of body corporate committee members and the army of domestic workers who keep our lives afloat.
After all, while the role of body corporate committees is neatly set out in the legislation, the legal definition doesn’t really explain the practical reality of the role for many involved in it. Even the most straightforward of buildings will require committee members to have multiple interactions with body corporate managers, building managers, owners and occupants to organise meetings, approve invoices, review pet applications, action safety issues and so on. And most buildings aren’t that straightforward. Budgets and long term planning grow ever more complex, while social issues around by-law breaches can require time and skill to negotiate. The hours needed to keep things moving quickly add up, while the patience of owners waiting for a response tends to run dry quickly. Ask any body corporate manager if they would volunteer their free time to join a committee and, at best, you might be met with a polite smile.
For an example of the work committee members might do, let’s consider the classic case of the effort required to change a light bulb. Here, we’ll assume that a light in the common hallway is out in a scheme where there is no building manager. A watchful committee member spots the broken light, knows this is a safety risk and contacts the body corporate manager to arrange a repair. The manager lets the whole committee know, so the member gets an email as part of that group then responds by authorising an electrician to attend. The member’s number is listed as the site contact, so the electrician calls them to find out where the light is and how to get access. The member agrees to meet the electrician the next day to let them in and shows them the light when they attend. The member sends an email to the manager to confirm the work is finished and a week later approves the electrician’s invoice on the payment hub. It’s only a minor job and everything went smoothly, but the committee member still had a series of contact points through the process when they had to engage. Multiply that effort by the number of issues that affect a building through the year and you start to get an idea of the value of the contribution made. Imagine if you saw that effort quantified as a dollar item on the budget.
Should committee members get paid for the work they do?
Does this mean that committee members should get paid for the work they do? Not necessarily, but greater consideration should be given to the value they bring to the schemes they assist. Bodies corporate rely on volunteers and if they don’t do the work, someone will have to be paid to do it, or it just won’t get done.
It’s up to each body corporate scheme to determine if compensation is due, but if committee members aren’t going to be paid, they could be due some greater consideration. A bottle of wine at the AGM or even a thank you can go a long way to compensating a weary committee member every now and again.