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Edinburgh Fringe Society to probe workers’ pay and working conditions

Festivalgoers throng the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo: Lou Armor/Shutterstock Festivalgoers throng the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: Lou Armor/Shutterstock
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Workers and volunteers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are to be questioned about pay and working conditions, as part of a survey launched by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

The anonymous survey is an attempt by the Fringe Society to build a comprehensive picture of all models of work at the Edinburgh Fringe.

It has been commissioned by the society from independent research company Culture Republic, and is open to all staff, volunteers and freelances who worked at fringe venues in 2016 and 2017.

It includes questions on contracts, pay, benefits such as accommodation and living costs, shift work, rostered breaks and employment rights. It is open those working both front and back of house.

The survey follows the establishment of a code of conduct for the living wage agreed between BECTU and the Fringe Society in 2015, and the Fair Fringe campaign in August by the Unite union’s hospitality arm, which said it had been “inundated with complaints from workers about their treatment at the fringe”.

Speaking in August about the campaign, Unite’s Scottish Organiser Bryan Simpson said: “We heard horror stories of workers receiving notional fees for five weeks’ full-time work, bar workers doing lengthy trial shifts unpaid and PR staff getting £10 to hand out 1,000 leaflets.”

Acknowledging the concerns raised by Fair Fringe campaign, a spokesman for the Fringe Society told The Stage: “As the organisation that underpins the fringe, we take these concerns very seriously and we would encourage anyone who worked for a fringe venue in 2016 or 2017 to complete this survey so we can build a comprehensive picture of all working models at the festival.”

The society said that in line with fringe’s open-access ethos, “venues are free to operate as they wish, provided they comply with applicable licensing, employment and health and safety legislation”.

However, it emphasises that it is committed to working with venues to ensure they legally and fairly compensate staff for the work they do during the fringe.

The survey has been welcomed by both Unite and BECTU, which are encouraging their members to take part.

Simpson told The Stage that he was pleased the Fringe Society was taking its concerns about working conditions seriously.

However, he warned that it was likely the results would highlight some poor conditions and low pay, given that the union’s own survey of fringe workers in August revealed people were working 50 to 70 hour weeks on less than the minimum wage.

He said: “We know that workers are still not receiving the breaks they are entitled to or the sick pay or holiday pay that they should be getting. We are therefore confident that the survey will unearth some unwelcome truths for many employers that they must improve conditions for staff.”

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