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Some Edinburgh Fringe venues no better than sweatshops, report claims

The Royal Mile during Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: shutterstock The Royal Mile during Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: shutterstock
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Front-of-house, box office and technical staff at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are routinely exploited by employers and forced to work in unfair and unsafe conditions, according to a new report.

The newly released document, from the Fair Fringe campaign, argues that “shameful” employment practices and precarious conditions are contributing to the physical and mental decline of those who work at the festival’s venues.

Among the employers cited in the report is fringe operator C Venues, which claims it hires workers as volunteers, offering them £200 if they work for the full fringe, working out at less than 50p per hour over the entire festival.

“This equates to the wage of sweatshops,” the report says.

C Venues had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

The report offers a snapshot of some of the practices used in recruiting festival workers, and quotes adverts from various employers that ask people to work for nothing in exchange for accommodation, small expenses fees or simply to gain experience.

“Venues and performers can afford to pay their staff properly – and, where they can’t, then it is obvious that their business model isn’t viable. It is simply unacceptable to run a festival of this scale on the back of unpaid labour,” the report says.

It criticises the practice of offering volunteer workers accommodation as a “perk”, claiming that digs are often basic and cramped, and mean that “workers are trapped in their roles under the threat of homelessness”.

The Fair Fringe campaign was established last year by the union Unite’s hospitality arm, and is demanding that all venues and performers sign up to a charter guaranteeing the real Living Wage of £8.75, minimum-hour contracts, proper breaks and the abolition of unpaid trial shifts.

In a survey last year about working conditions at the fringe, a third said they were unpaid, with 54% receiving less than £7.50 an hour.

A third of workers at Edinburgh Fringe unpaid, survey reveals

The Fringe Society has since promised to address the issue and published a code of conduct in partnership with BECTU ahead of this year’s festival.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said of the latest report: “The Fringe Society is committed to ensuring that everyone who works on the fringe, in whatever capacity, has the best experience possible.”

She added that the society had been liaising with the City of Edinburgh, participants and venues to “positively and proactively address any issues and promote a fair, positive and safe working environment for all”.

In response to the report’s publication, one of the fringe’s largest operators, Underbelly, has defended its employment practices, stressing that all staff are paid the national living wage or above, and that it does not use volunteers or zero-hours contracts.

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