Nicola Sturgeon warns Hogmanay organisers not to ‘exploit’ volunteers

Last year's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Last year's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Nicola Sturgeon has intervened in a growing row over the use of 300 unpaid workers at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations by insisting new organisers must abide by an official volunteering code of conduct aimed at preventing exploitation.

The First Minister has warned event organisers that volunteers “should never be exploited” and should not be used to cut costs - days after the Volunteer Scotland charity pulled adverts for the controversial roles amid claims they breach industry guidelines.

The annual Torchlight Procession now marks the start of Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: TSPL

The annual Torchlight Procession now marks the start of Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: TSPL

New organisers of the city’s celebrations are at loggerheads with union leaders after a recruitment drive for Hogmanay Ambassadors was launched months after councillors reduced the budget for the event by £500,000.

Fringe promoters Underbelly insist that none of the 300 volunteering posts are replacing “paid-for” roles at the event, which is worth £40 million to the city’s economy. It claims it is a victim of a “sorry climate of bashing success.”

However the Scottish Trade Union Congress and the Unite union believe that the teams of Hogmanay Ambassadors, who include managers and supervisors, have “displaced” paid work.

Ms Sturgeon has intervened months after she helped launch a new volunteering initiative at the Edinburgh festivals, which was funded to the tune of £40,000 by the city council.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said she was aware that 1700 paid staff would be on duty at the event, but added: “I have an important point to make about volunteers.

“We would all agree, I think, that volunteering is a good thing. Volunteers contribute hugely to festivals and major events. That was the case at the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow and earlier this year at the Edinburgh festivals.

“However, those who contribute voluntarily to making such events a success must be treated fairly and must never be exploited. Volunteers should complement paid professionals in the delivery of an event and should never replace them. The value of volunteers should not be used to reduce contract costs.

“We expect major event organisers to work with Volunteer Scotland to ensure volunteers are treated fairly. We also expect organisers to follow the charter Volunteer Scotland and the STUC put in place to strengthen relationships between volunteers and paid staff.

“I welcome the fact that all parties in this particular dispute have agreed to get round the table and discuss the matter with Volunteer Scotland, which has suspended promotion of the opportunities until the dispute is resolved. I hope it is resolved quickly and that the event is the roaring success we’ve come to expect.”

A spokeswoman for the council said: “We will do whatever we can to help resolve this matter as early as possible.”