Edinburgh City Council to back ‘Fair Fringe’ pay campaign

Staff working at Fringe venues across the city are being exploited claim the Fair Fringe campaign
Staff working at Fringe venues across the city are being exploited claim the Fair Fringe campaign
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City council chiefs are to back a campaign against the “widespread exploitation” of festival workers.

Operators of council-owned venues and sites for temporary cafes, bars and food stalls are set to face strict new guidelines on pay and conditions.

The authority is expected to officially endorse the “Fair Fringe” campaign, which aims to ensure all workers are at least paid the living wage of £8.45 an hour.

Its support for the campaign was revealed at the annual meeting of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society by council leader Adam McVey, who said the council had a a “duty of care and an obligation” to anyone coming to the city to perform and work in August.

Other demands by union leaders include a ban on zero hours contracts and unpaid “trial” shifts, providing legally-entitled rest breaks, and laying on paid transport home after midnight.

Council officials will be asked to report back on how the ten-point charter can be “promoted and adhered to” by anyone hiring council-owned venues or sites next year.

The report will also examine whether new conditions should also be attached to any council funding deals for arts organisations or venues.

Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, claims many venue workers are being classed as volunteers to avoid paying them the living wage, which is said to be “almost unheard of” at the Fringe.

It is claimed some venue workers are paid as little as £200 for six weeks work, with some staff having to work for 12 hours or more without a break.
 The Fringe Society has insisted it pays all its staff the living wage and is already working with venues and other festival employers to ensure that everyone involved in the event has “the best experience possible”.

Councillors will be asked this week to endorse an official motion backing the Fair Fringe campaign, which has the backing of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens.

Cllr McVey said: “I don’t think we should over-estimate the scale of the problem. The Fringe is the biggest, best and most vibrant festival in the word. Thousands of people come to work and perform at it, are grateful for the oportunity, enjoy good working conditions and have a good experience while they’re here.

“But at the same time I think we need to work on spreading good practice across venues and everyone else that is involved with the festivals this month. I know there are people in the city right now working on the festivals that are not enjoying the working conditions that they would expect.

“The motion would endorse the campaign’s ten-point fair hospitality charter and there would be a report ahead of next year’s festivals on how these aims can be best promoted and adhered to in council-owned and run venues, as well as in food and beverage venues.

“Essentially, with anything at the Fringe that involves the council, we’ll be working to ensure those aims are met in future. The way it works is marginally organised chaos and it always should. We have to make sure we don’t undermine that in anything we do.

“But there is no excuse for not paying stewards and people working in bars the living wage and not providing the hard-fought employment rights and opportunities that everyone should enjoy.”