Unite wins commitment to extra rights for fringe workers

Unite has succeeded in extracting a guarantee from Edinburgh City Council that fringe companies will sign up to the Festival Workers Welfare commitment.

The abuses and exploitation of young workers at the fringe is well documented, with over a third of workers going unpaid, and others receiving a mere £3.40 an hour.

One venue, Zoo Venues, which runs six performance spaces, ran an ad calling for technicians to work the whole festival with only expenses and accommodation and no wages.

When pressed, Zoo Venues suggested that Edinburgh's residents could ‘show respect’ for the festival by lowering the cost of accommodation, and reminded the unions that a lot of the venues were charities. But the principle that labour should be paid for does not stop at the private sector.

Workers are also given little notice on changes in shift patterns, and can be called to work or have their shift cancelled with as little as a day's notice.

The Welfare commitment from the council promises at the least the Living Wage, guaranteed rest breaks, contracted hours, anti-harassment measures, safer journeys to work, no topping up of wages with tips, and an end to unpaid trial shifts. Arts and production unions BECTU and Equity have already committed to keeping a close eye on the management of the fringe, amid a flurry of accusations of malpractice last year. 

Unite’s Deputy Scottish secretary, Mary Alexander said:

“This landmark commitment serves to show Edinburgh City Council is leading the way on addressing unfair and exploitative working practices across the hospitality sector and serves notice on unscrupulous employers looking to make a fast buck during the summer festivals in Edinburgh at the expense of worker’s rights.”

Bryan Simpson from Unite’s Fair Fringe Campaign hoped that this move would send a warning signal to subpar conditions throughout hospitality:

“We are pleased that Edinburgh City Council has listened to calls from our members at the Fringe that they deserve decent wages and fair conditions like every other worker. With a living wage, minimum hour contracts and protection from discrimination, thousands of hospitality workers across the capital will benefit.”

“For too long now Fringe workers have been thought of by some of the big employers like Underbelly as disposable and not deserving of “luxuries” like the living wage. This commitment serves notice that these practices will no longer be tolerated.”

“We hope that these changes send a clear message to private sector employers who have been caught-out in the past with sub-standard working conditions that they must buck-up their ideas when it comes to fair hospitality for their workers.”

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