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Virgin Trains under fire over unpaid work offer

Virgin Trains has come under fire for asking for singers to work unpaid. Photo: Steve Jones/Flickr
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Performers have criticised Virgin Trains after it asked singers to work in exchange for train tickets.

Singers were approached by Virgin Trains, which said it was looking for “local talent” to take part in a charity event by performing for two hours in the station.

“In return for your support, we would offer you VIP complimentary train tickets return anywhere on our routes,” an email from the company said.

Union Equity claimed that performers undertaking freelance work for the specified time should be paid about £200 for their services.

“It’s outrageous that big corporations expect performers to work for free. They clearly have the capacity to pay properly. They wouldn’t expect other workers to give up their professional services for nothing. It amazes me that they continue to do this,” said Emmanuel de Lange, Equity’s low pay no pay organiser. “It’s about time corporations took professionals in the entertainment sector seriously,” he added.

Virgin Trains also requested that performers send in examples of their work “to ensure [it had] the best performers and the greatest impact”. The company also asked performers to bring their own equipment.

A singer, who did not want to be named, said that she enquired about the job after hearing about it from a friend because she could not believe performers were being requested to work without proper pay. “I thought it couldn’t be true. I was particularly angry about the way the email gave us the excuse that it was okay because they were giving us exposure, implying that it’s going to be really good for your career standing singing carols in a train station,” she said.

“There are things that people such as me might do at this time of year – we might do something for charity, or at a reduced fee if we know a company doesn’t have very much money. But everybody knows Virgin is one of the biggest companies in the world, so it’s not an excuse,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Trains said: “We recently emailed selected performers asking them if they would be interested in playing at a charity event being held at Euston Station… Virgin Trains values the contribution of everybody who supports this kind of charity event and therefore, as a thank you, we offered complimentary tickets for our trains.”

A spokeswoman for the Musicians’ Union said that while there was nothing wrong in asking a worker to donate to charity, it should not be “a decision they feel pressured into making”, and pointed out that organisers, promoters and other event personnel often take their regular fees at these events.

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