THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe is set to come under mounting pressure to ensure that people working in the hundreds of venues in the city each summer get a fairer pay deal.
Union leaders have begun a campaign to ensure that the Fringe becomes a “Living Wage Festival” after talks with Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop during this year’s event.
Bectu, the leading trade union for the UK entertainment industry, wants “all categories of staff” involved in Fringe venues and shows to be paid the Living Wage.
The campaign could also be spread to year-round arts venues across Scotland, with the union claiming “thousands of workers across the arts sector” are being denied the wage.
The Scottish Government, which described Hyslop’s meeting with Bectu as “constructive”, told Scotland on Sunday that it “firmly believes that all employees should be fairly rewarded for the work they do.”
The campaign could lead to a dramatic rise in costs for Fringe venues, many of which rely on volunteers working behind the scenes.
Bectu officials decided to take action over the Fringe after receiving an “unprecedented” number of complaints from people working in Edinburgh’s venues this summer.
It wants Edinburgh University principal Tim O’Shea – the current chair of the Fringe’s board – to deal with what it describes as the “exploitation” of workers at the festival, which is valued at more than £260 million to the economy. Many venues are owned and leased out by the university to leading promoters.
The union said it wanted to raise the numerous reports of “low or no wages, serious breaches of health and safety legislation, and/or extremely long hours of work” it had received over this summer’s Fringe, for which a record 2.29 million tickets were sold.
There were more than 300 venues set up, hosting 3,315 shows and 24,000 performers.
The Festival Fringe Society, which has overseen the event since 1958, is not directly involved in the running of any venues, though it insists all its own staff are paid the Living Wage of at least £7.85 an hour.
Paul McManus, Scottish organiser of Bectu, said: “Fiona Hyslop and the Scottish government are rightly pushing the Living Wage as a key priority. I believe that the very fact that the Fringe does not employ all the staff who complain of exploitation puts the Fringe Society in an ideal place to drive forward the Living Wage agenda across hundreds of venues in Edinburgh.”
A government spokesman said: “We would be happy to discuss with the Fringe Society, as we do with organisations in other sectors, how they can help employers achieve payment of the Living Wage.”
A spokeswoman for the festival society said: “The Fringe is an open-access festival that accommodates anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.
“Fringe venues come in different shapes and sizes, some run by volunteers, some by temporary staff and while the society supports the Living Wage, it recognises that not all venues are in a position to adopt it.”