‘Terrible’ and ‘Shameful’ Edinburgh Festival Fringe work practices revealed

A damning new dossier exposing “terrible” and “shameful” working practices at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been revealed by anti-exploitation campaigners.
The research published days ahead of venues opening across the city has raised fresh concerns. Picture: PAThe research published days ahead of venues opening across the city has raised fresh concerns. Picture: PA
The research published days ahead of venues opening across the city has raised fresh concerns. Picture: PA

Research published days ahead of venues opening across the city has raised fresh concerns about the treatment of volunteers, payment and working hours of staff, age discrimination and the use of over-crowded accommodation.

Activists have accused Fringe operators of being “far more secretive” about the pay and conditions they are offering staff to work at the event following growing scrutiny since the campaign was launched two years ago.

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However, key players have been named in the new report by the Fair Fringe campaign, including Pleasance, Underbelly, Bound and Gagged, Zoo and The Space.

The campaign claims the findings, based on adverts placed in recent months, have highlighted how “embedded the expectation to work to the point of exhaustion has become at the festival”.

Some promoters are said to expect staff to work for an entire month without a day off, openly of the “real living wage” in the UK of £9 an hour - as recommended to employers by the Living Wage Foundation and offers perks like free tickets instead of proper pay.

The report, which highlights what it describes as the problems with “poverty pay” across the Fringe, states that £9 an hour “is not enough to live on, even before considering any extra costs of living in Edinburgh during the Festival.”

It adds: “Sadly, work which pays less than the real living wage is very common at the Fringe.”

Controversy flared earlier this year when the Fair Fringe campaign demanded C Venues be banned from the official festival programme over a financial model it claimed was “built on exploitation, underpayment and overworked staff”.

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The dossier claims there is still widespread use of “volunteer labour” across the festival in a bid to keep operating costs of venues down, despite the actions of C Venues being highlighted when the company won two out of three “Bad Boss Awards” instigated by the Fair Fringe campaign last year.

The new research states: “Since last year our campaign has made massive strides forward and a host of venues have made some excellent improvements. However, sadly there are still too many workers being exploited and too many companies failing to treat their staff with respect.

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“We’ve noticed companies have been far more secretive about their pay and conditions. They now know we are watching and their exploitation will not go unchallenged. Even with this, there are still many adverts advertising terrible working conditions for staff.

“This report is a glimpse into the shameful practices that employers use to staff venues through underpay, discrimination, tied housing and overwork. We want to see it all end. With it will come a Fringe that is fair and works for all. Some festival employers insist that if they paid their staff a proper wage their business would collapse. But the reality is that any business which can’t afford to pay its staff properly cannot afford to operate.”

However, Pleasance director Anthony Alderson said: “The Pleasance Theatre Trust, a charity registered in Scotland, runs a legal volunteer programme, in a similar way that many cultural and sporting events do, the legacies of which are celebrated for the many opportunities they create. The legacy of our volunteering programme is incredibly positive with volunteers going on to build careers in major theatrical institutions across the globe.

“Volunteers at the Pleasance receive a subsistence to cover expenses and we provide accommodation at no cost to the individual, with each participant receiving a single private bedroom.

“I myself started as a volunteer and 45 per cent of this year’s management team began in the same way. It is a hugely positive experience and many volunteers return year after year.”

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