Bectu says it’s time to put Fair Work First at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

2 August 2022

Bectu, in collaboration with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and the Volunteer Council for Edinburgh, has launched new guidance to improve the engagement and treatment of workers and volunteers at the festival.

The guidance, comprising best practice for engaging employees at the Fringe [link] and best practice for engaging volunteers [link], together seek to improve working conditions and standards for the hundreds of people working in administration, hospitality, front of house and technical areas across Fringe venues.

The employers’ guidance encourages employers to pay the real Living Wage, currently £9.90 per hour, and to adhere to the standards of the Scottish Government’s Fair Work First policies, which have been agreed with trade unions across Scotland.

The volunteer guidance states that individual volunteer roles should not be business critical, but should rather complement paid roles; that volunteers should receive reasonable out of pocket expenses; that volunteering roles should benefit the volunteer as well as the organisation involved; and that volunteers should have access to appropriate training and development, and a mechanism to deal with any grievances.

Volunteers have historically been used in large numbers by some Fringe venues and operators and Bectu believes that in many instances, volunteers are being used for work that should be paid. The new guidance makes clear that any role that is “critical to the delivery of the service” should not be filled by volunteers.

The union has also called on the Fringe Society to undertake a detailed review of how volunteers are used at the festival so that clear limits can be introduced to avoid any inappropriate use or mistreatment of volunteers.

Bectu Negotiations Officer Paul McManus said:

“It is never acceptable for anyone to think that they should have to volunteer for roles as a way to gain experience and/or entry into an industry. Trainee places should be paid and properly supervised and managed.

“The use of volunteers is also a concern for Bectu as we know that people from ethnic minorities and lower income households are less able to afford to volunteer; the practice therefore perpetuates the unacceptable idea that the arts are only for those from certain ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds.

“Anyone who feels that the role they are undertaking is outside the volunteer guidance should contact Bectu. In order to improve standards at the Fringe it is critical that any concerns are flagged to us as quickly as possible so that we can work with the Fringe Society to keep challenging all venues and operators to follow best practices.”

Are you taking on a volunteer role at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

• If you feel that the role you are undertaking is outside the volunteer guidance you should contact Bectu as soon as possible.
• No one should be volunteering excessive hours for any reason at the Fringe and long hours need to be challenged if and when it arises.

Are you taking on a paid role at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

• Make sure you have a very clear written agreement before you start working, which sets out your rates of pay and hours of work
• Where the employer is offering accommodation, make sure you know where it is, what facilities are being provided, how many people are sharing it and what you are being charged for it. The better companies do not charge for providing accommodation, other than a notional admin fee for cleaning and admin.
• No one should be working excessive hours for any reason at the Fringe and long hours and low pay need to be challenged if and when it arises.

If you are concerned about a paid or volunteer role at the Fringe you can contact Bectu in complete confidence on social media or email [email protected].