Edinburgh Festival Fringe workers are still subject to “shameful” practices from employers, despite increased scrutiny on exploitation at the festival, activists have argued.
People working at this year’s fringe, which begins in several days’ time, are being engaged to work by venue operators, producers and promoters on low or no pay, without sufficient time off and in “terrible” working conditions, according to the Fair Fringe campaign.
A year on from its original report into exploitation of workers at the festival and following high-profile criticism of the pay and conditions offered by major fringe operator C Venues, the campaign said it believed employers were being “far more secretive” about their practices on job advertising.
“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 fringe companies failing to treat their staff with respect,” the report said.
Several leading companies are named in the document, including venue operators such as Pleasance and Zoo Venues, as well as comedy promoters such as Bound and Gagged.
The report takes aim at areas such as working hours and rest breaks, claiming staff are given as little as one day off throughout the festival, with some requiring people to work every day, as well as employers advertising roles for less than the minimum wage.
It also criticises the practice of engaging workers as volunteers and bypassing rights owed to paid workers.
C Venues, Pleasance and Zoo Venues all operate volunteer programmes, in which individuals are not paid for their work but often offered free tickets as incentives or given expenses contributions.
The Fair Fringe Campaign’s latest report said “little has changed” for its volunteers in terms of a lack of time off, cramped and overcrowded accommodation and small contribution to expenses instead of actual pay.
It added: “It is clear that C’s business model uses volunteer labour to lower operational costs.”
C Venues did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Zoo Venues or Bound and Gagged.
Pleasance, which has run a volunteer programme for several years, spoke of the scheme’s legacy. Its director Anthony Alderson said: “[It] 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% of this year’s management team began in the same way. It is a hugely positive experience and many volunteers return year after year. 97% of last year’s volunteers stated they would love to return in 2019 if available,” Alderson said.
The Fair Fringe campaign was set up two years ago by the union Unite’s hospitality arm. It calls on all venues and performers to sign up to a charter that commits to paying the real living wage of £9 per hour, rest breaks, equal pay for young workers and no unpaid trial shifts.