Edinburgh festivals ‘must ensure fair pay for workers’

New guidelines call for a 'living wage' to be paid to festival workers.
New guidelines call for a 'living wage' to be paid to festival workers.
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All workers at Edinburgh’s festivals will have to be paid a “living wage” of at least £7.83 an hour, be guaranteed rest breaks, and must be protected from harassment and discrimination in future under a strict new code of conduct.

A ban on unpaid trial shifts and the use “tips” to either replace or top up wages is also demanded in new guidelines, which are intended to set a “minimum standard” for the treatment of staff.

They have been published in the wake of growing concern about the exploitation of staff working at some of Edinburgh’s biggest events.

The city council says the new commitments, which have been drawn up following talks with union representatives and event organisers, are aimed at protecting the reputation of Edinburgh as “the world’s leading festival city”.

Council chiefs hope the new guidelines – which will be enshrined in an Edinburgh Festivals Workers’ Welfare Commitment – will help set “high standards” for the treatment of staff and promote a “responsible and credible worker environment”.

Chief executive Andrew Kerr said the city wants to ensure “fair work practices” are “adopted and complied with” by all festivals and venues.

Mr Kerr said: “We have a reputation as the world’s leading festival city. It is a dynamic city which makes a vital contribution to the community and economy of Scotland and we want to set high standards for those festival workers who support the city.

“We, as a council, promote high standards of performance, accountability, and a culture based on strong values. We ask others to do the same.

“The objective of this commitment is to promote a responsible and credible festival worker environment for Edinburgh, while encouraging all festival organisations to work in partnership with trade union colleagues.

“Our commitment sets out what we as a council expect for festival workers and where we would like others to follow.

“The council has a clear vision for festival workers in Edinburgh and we want to make sure that fair work practices are adopted and complied with.

“We call upon those engaging our festival workers in Edinburgh to follow the worker commitments.”

The council’s new guidelines have been inspired by a Fair Hospitality Charter drawn up the Unite trade union, which launched a Fair Fringe campaign last summer to try to secure a better deal for festival workers and help clamp down on sharp practice.

The authority has not set out sanctions which will be enforced in the face of any of the guidelines being flouted. However, they could potentially affect event organisers or promoters applying to hire a venue, secure an entertainment licence or seek funding.

Paul Lawrence, the council’s executive director of place, whose report on the new guidelines will be discussed by councillors next week. added: “The council’s terms of employment and UK employment law already address a number of the points contained within the Fair Hospitality Charter. Indeed, many of the council’s policies extend further.

“However, there are areas where clarification of the council’s policy would be helpful in demonstrating its commitment to the welfare of workers and the expectations that the council has on those using its venues or operating during the festivals.

“The council has a leadership role within the city and should demonstrate good practice so that its own standards can be applied to others.”

It is understood the council will be writing to directors of all the main festivals urging them to throw their weight behind the proposals.

However, the new guidelines could have a significant impact on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in particular.

A survey of venue workers carried out in the wake of last year’s event found that almost one in three were not paid for their time.

Almost half of those surveyed said they worked more than 49 hours a week during the Fringe, while around a quarter of workers were paid less than £1,000 over the entire festival.

Bryan Simpson, hospitality organisers for the Unite Scotland union, said: “For too long now Fringe workers have been thought of by some of the big employers like as disposable and not deserving of ‘luxuries’ like the living wage.

“We are pleased that the city council has listened to calls from our members at the Fringe that they deserve fair conditions like every other worker.

“With a living wage, minimum hour contracts and protection from discrimination, thousands of hospitality workers across the capital will benefit.

“These changes also send a clear message to private employers who have been caught-out in the past with sub-standard working conditions that they must buck up their ideas when it comes to fair hospitality for their workers.”

A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society said: “We are committed to ensuring that everyone who works on the Fringe, in whatever capacity, has the best experience possible.

“Following our independent survey of venue workers, we’ve been working closely with the city council, participants and venues to address the issues raised and promote a fair, positive and safe working environment for all.

“We welcome the council’s pro-active and ongoing support.”

A spokeswoman for Fringe promoters Underbelly, who also produce the city’s Hogmanay festival, said: “Edinburgh is the world’s leading festival city and we welcome the council’s involvement in ensuring that everyone who works for Edinburgh’s festivals is protected by fair working practices.”

Donald Wilson, culture convener at the city council, said: “As a council it is important that we lead by example and promote fair working practices.

“The festivals are hugely important to Edinburgh and the adoption of these commitments will further build on our reputation as a world leading festival city.

“Therefore, I am keen that those involved in the industry adopt these working practices when they are agreed by the council.”