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‘Less than £400 for 40 days’ work’: research reveals ‘shocking’ levels of low pay at Edinburgh Fringe

The Royal Mile during Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: shutterstock The Royal Mile during Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: shutterstock
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Edinburgh Fringe theatremakers earned an average of just £392.15 for their work at the 2018 festival, covering a period of as much as 40 days, with fair-pay campaigners branding the figures “shocking”.

New research reveals that 38% of those surveyed were completely unpaid, with the average payment for those who did receive money standing at £637.25.

The average wage figures include any payments for rehearsal periods, for which the median average was 15 days, plus their production’s full run, which were of varying lengths. The 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe ran for 25 days, with most productions running the full duration of the event.

Activist theatre company Power Play, which carried out the research, argued that the results highlight “serious issues around accessibility” within the festival.

Power Play, which works to highlight systematic gender inequality in theatre, surveyed 325 workers at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe in a range of performing, creative and backstage roles. A full report on the research will be published in the coming months.

Figures from letting agent Citylets suggest that the average rent in Edinburgh for the third quarter of 2018 was £1,107 per month.

While there are a number of factors at play and rents tend to be higher during the festival period, this figure suggests that the average fringe worker who was not provided with free lodgings could be out of pocket by £700 on accommodation alone.

Roberto Valdo Cortese from Power Play told The Stage: “While the Edinburgh Fringe is an incredible platform for emerging theatremakers to showcase their work, these figures clarify serious issues around accessibility.

“The expectation that most theatremakers, particularly performers, go through this rite of passage – working for a month plus rehearsals unpaid or for very little money, on top of sky-high rent and considerable expenses – is troubling.”

He added: “This feeds into a wider theatrical culture where opportunities require a financial safety net that doesn’t exist for most people, compounded by additional barriers such as caring obligations (disproportionately affecting older women) or coming from a working-class background.”

A spokesperson for the Fair Fringe campaign said that while the figures were “shocking”, they were not surprising.

The spokesman said: “The Fringe Society’s own survey of almost 500 fringe workers found that 54% received less than £7.50 an hour (the minimum wage at the time) with 25% receiving less than £1,000 for four to five weeks’ work. Based on the average working week of those surveyed (49 hours per week) that works out less than £5 per hour.”

Scottish negotiations officer for BECTU Paul McManus called on employers to work with the union by signing up to its code of conduct, which was developed with the Fringe Society.

BECTU and Fringe Society publish code of conduct for Edinburgh employers

He said: “As we do every year, we ask anyone taking work at the fringe to contact us directly with any issues or concerns and we will take these up with both the Fringe Society and directly with the employers.

“If we don’t address specific issues constructively and directly at the source then it’s all too easy, but entirely unproductive, for people to just keep putting out general criticisms of the fringe, and ultimately I believe that will drive employers and producers away from Edinburgh.”

Gordon Maloney, an organiser for Scotland’s tenants’ union Living Rent, argued that “sky-high rents” in the city needed to be addressed, as they were a “serious barrier” for those wanting to work in the city.

He added: “Whether that’s performers or workers at the fringe or families struggling to make ends meet, unaffordable rents are causing serious problems in people’s lives.”

The Fringe Society declined to comment until the full report from Power Play is released.

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