Anger over Edinburgh’s Hogmanay volunteer plans

Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebration
Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebration
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Organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay have come under fire over plans to bring in more than 300 volunteers to work at this year’s event.

New organisers of the money-spinning festivities hope to recruit a 150-strong army of Hogmanay ambassadors to work for up to 12 hours in the city on Hogmanay.

Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood of Underbelly, who have taken over running Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood of Underbelly, who have taken over running Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

They are also seeking a similar number to work at the torchlight procession through the city on 30 December.

But the scheme, which involves volunteers commit to several training and rehearsal sessions in the run-up to the event, have been described as “absolutely outrageous and “mass exploitation.”

The celebrations are being produced for the first time by Fringe promoters Underbelly, who insist the “Hogmanay Ambassadors” will not be replacing stewards and security staff. Around 800 of them will be working at the event, out of a 1700-strong workforce.

However the team of volunteers will only get meal vouchers and “reasonable” travel expenses for working at an event worth around £40 million to the city.

The scheme has come under fire from Better Than Zero, an action group set up to tackle exploitation in the hospitality industry, which was involved in the recent Fair Fringe campaign to ensure venue workers are paid the Living Wage.

Better Than Zero organiser Bryan Simpson said: “To ask 120 well-trained staff to work 12 hours in the freezing cold for free is morally unacceptable.

“As one of the main sponsors of the event we will be asking questions of Edinburgh City Council, particularly given their unanimous support of our Fair Hospitality Charter, which commits the council to the pay the living wage at its venues.”

Ross Greer, culture spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: “Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is world-famous, but Scotland’s reputation will be tarnished if Underbelly go ahead with this mass exploitation programme.

“Hogmanay is a big money-maker for the businesses involved; those who staff the event, and make it a success, deserve fair pay for the shifts they put in. I’m sure the corporate and public sponsors won’t want to be associated with unfair treatment.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “It’s absolutely incredible that we have people exploited and asked to work for nothing for a night shift on one of the busiest days of the year, when the capital city will be bringing in extraordinary amounts of money from visitors travelling from all over the world.

“To me, this is a scandal and I would call on the organisers to immediately end this practice, and pay people at least the living wage for their hours.”

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Critics have also taken to social media to lambast the scheme, which has been unveiled months after a new Festival City Volunteers programme was launched in Edinburgh by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Richard Johnston tweeted: “I think they’ve mistaken it for the Olympics. Pretty disgusting. It’s that kind of greedy, non socially-responsible thinking that results in the rich getting richer and the poor get poorer... ‘can we get away with not paying people whilst raking in more cash?’.”

Mark Newton posted on Twitter: “Here’s an idea - why don’t you pay people to work at @edhogmanay seeing as you’re charging people to watch the celebrations?

“It’s not right that you ask people to earn you revenue while denying people the right to earn a wage themselves.”

Ryan McEwan tweeted: “Can’t believe @edhogmanay have the cheek to even ask for volunteers. Like what happened to paying people? Has organising Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations suddenly became unprofitable?”

In its official publicity material for the volunteers programme, Underbelly says it is looking for “Hogmanay heroes” to help make the city’s event the most welcoming in the world.

The event’s official Edinburgh’s Hogmanay states: “We want our rebooted and revamped street party to leave its mark on people and help make Edinburgh’s street party the best and safest party in the world.

“We’re looking for street party ambassadors with a ‘happy to help’ attitude.

“You’ll be the friendly hosts and info points for the thousands of people that come to the Street Party, show people around and give out helpful information in the event arena.”

A spokeswoman for Underbelly, which has taken over the running of the festival from Unique Events after 24 years, said: “Edinburgh’s Hogmanay employs more than 1700 paid for staff.

“Our volunteer roles are not in any way mandatory to the successful or safe running of the festival but are there to provide opportunities for people who want to get involved in major international events either for experience, camaraderie or any other reason, and who choose to volunteer.

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“All events are fully staffed with paid for professional stewards and security staff, and volunteers do not replace them in any way.

“Our volunteer charter formally lays out the commitments we’re making to volunteers, which includes paid travel, subsistence expenses, training, access to other events at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and a certificate for taking part.

“Volunteering is a fantastic way to get involved at a festival such as Hogmanay and has been shown to have many social and wellbeing benefits and we believe Hogmanay will be enriched by giving people the opportunity to be involved on a voluntary basis.

“Underbelly takes our role as an employer seriously and is, and always has been, committed to full paid employment across all our events, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. “This ambassador scheme has been created to open up Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay festival to more people, but does not in any way replace any paid employment.”

Donald Wilson, the city council’s culture leader, said: “The council promotes fair wages for all, and will only support organisations which pay the living wage to their staff. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is a living wage event but, like most festivals and major events, it also offers unique opportunities for volunteers to be part of something special.

“This summer, for instance, we saw citizens take to the streets to champion Edinburgh in August as part of a pilot project with Festivals Edinburgh.

“This is Underbelly taking inspiration from this scheme, with a programme which allows those who are interested to be part of their production.”