Edinburgh Hogmanay U-turn as volunteers replaced by paid workers

Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood of Underbelly, whose company has agreed to changes to the controversial volunteer scheme.
Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood of Underbelly, whose company has agreed to changes to the controversial volunteer scheme.
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Controversial plans to use more than 300 unpaid workers at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations have been dramatically scaled back after campaigners threatened to protest outside the event.

Organisers have agreed to stump up wages for dozens of “Hogmanay Ambassador” roles after crunch talks were held between union leaders and the new organisers of the festival.

It is understood fewer than half the number of volunteers roles which were original advertised on the official Hogmanay website will now involve unpaid workers.

Union officials had warned Underbelly, the promoters who have just taken over the running of the event, they were set to to take “direct action” unless there was a rethink.

The Unite union and the Scottish Trade Union Congress claimed all the volunteer roles organisers were recruiting for were for posts paid in previous years. Underbelly, which disputed those claims, has now agreed to pull adverts seeking nearly 50 volunteer managers and supervisors.

They have also agreed to “significantly reduce” the number of “non-supervisory” volunteers on duty at the event following talks held after Underbelly was warned the use of unpaid workers was illegal.

The charity Volunteer Scotland pulled adverts over claims they breached an official industry charter stating that volunteers should not replace previously paid posts.

A joint statement was issued by the Better Than Zero campaign, the Unite union and the STUC days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she expected event organisers to abide by the charter. She insisted volunteers “must never be exploited” and should never be deployed to cut costs.

Underbelly launched its recruitment drive months after councillors agreed a £500,000 budget cut for the event.

The statement said: “Whilst opinions on the programme continue to differ, all parties thought it was a very constructive meeting and left with an understanding of the priorities and motivations of the others. As a result, the parties were able to reach an agreement on part of the programme.

“In consideration of points raised surrounding the language used to promote the programme and the potential for misunderstanding of the roles and the requirement for them, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay has ceased advertising ambassador supervisors and managers as volunteer roles and has instead moved them to paid positions.

“These roles will be paid at least the living wage. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is committed to the ambassador programme and to making appropriate volunteer roles available in this and future years. Non-supervisory ambassadors will still be part of the festival and these volunteer roles continue to be advertised, albeit fewer than initially estimated.”

A spokesman for Unite, said: “Following constructive negotiations with Underbelly, there has been positive movement towards our request that staff are paid at least the living wage.

“The company has agreed to pay all supervisory and management staff at least £8.95 an hour for all hours worked and to significantly reduce the number of unpaid volunteers being used.”