Fringe workers 'are being exploited' | Union tells of horror stories from flyerers and venue staff

Fringe workers 'are being exploited'

Union tells of horror stories from flyerers and venue staff

Britain’s largest trade union has launched a campaign to improve the wages and conditions of staff working at the Edinburgh Fringe.  

Unite claimed many people are paid the minimum wage or even less. There are instances where some workers – including bar staff, flyerers and technicians –  are being classed as ‘volunteers’ to avoid being paid them the correct amount. Some received just £200 for six weeks of work. 

The union also says that sexual harassment is ‘rife’ at the festival and said that employers, including the major venues, turn a blind eye.

Bryan Simpson of Unite Hospitality said: ‘Last year we received reports of widespread use of exploitative practices by Fringe employers including being paid £10 per 1,000 leaflets, working 10 hours without a break and not being paid for work carried out. 

‘We are determined not to allow this to happen again. Unite will be offering advice and support to any workers being exploited to ensure that they get what they are entitled to.’

In an open letter to the biggest Fringe employers – including the Pleasance, Assembly, Gilded Balloon and Underbelly – the union claims that:

  • The living wage of £8.45 per hour is ‘almost unheard of’, with many staff working many more hours than they’re paid for and very few fringe workers receiving sick pay or holiday pay.
  • Often, pay is replaced with ‘perks’ like free tickets that workers don’t have time to use, or accommodation in overcrowded flats, which means workers can’t leave their jobs without also losing their housing.
  • •Staff are given gruelling work rotas, often working for 12 hours or more without proper breaks, and often working the entire month of August without a day off. Some work into the early hours at night and begin again early the next morning, without an adequate break to sleep.
  • Many fringe workers are not issued contracts, are completely unaware of their rights, and are poorly managed by overworked and underpaid managers with no more experience than themselves.

Simpson added that claims of sexual harassment came mainly from bar-workers who report everything from verbal sexual references to assaults to their manager ‘only for nothing to be done about it’.

He added: ‘What we're calling for is a clear anti-sexual harassment policy that protects workers by making it clear to customers what is and isn't acceptable and training staff (particularly managers) how to deal with it when it does occur.’ 

Unite’s new Fair Fringe campaign is calling for fringe workers to come forward with their ‘nightmare stories’ as part of a workers' survey.  

And it asks employers to sign up to a ‘fair hospitality charter’ which means all staff should get the living wage, no-zero hour contracts, paid transport after midnight and other rights.

Published: 9 Aug 2017

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