New rules aim to answer festival ‘exploitation’ claims

Scotland is enjoying a tourism boom, but there are concerns that some workers have been exploited at festival events.
Scotland is enjoying a tourism boom, but there are concerns that some workers have been exploited at festival events.

Strict new rules on the use of volunteers at Edinburgh’s world famous festivals are to be drawn up in the wake of exploitation concerns.

An official “code of practice” is expected to be put in place within months following controversy over the use of unpaid workers at events like the Fringe and the city’s Hogmanay celebrations.

All of the city’s major events, including the book. visual art, jazz and film festivals, will be asked to endorse the new code of practice, which will insist that volunteers are treated “fairly” at all times and do not “replace” paid workers.

Volunteer organisations and union officials are also expected to be involved in talks to ensure that the new rules meet current best practice guidelines for the events industry.

Critics say some organisers have been using volunteers at major event for roles which should at least pay the “living wage” and imposing zero hours contracts.

Producers of the Hogmanay event were forced to scale back plans to use more than 300 volunteers last year afer an outcry.

A recent survey of workers at Edinburgh Festival Fringe venues found almost a third were unpaid last year. Council chiefs say the new rules will still allow volunteers to be used to welcome and help festival-goers. However the guidelines will also be aimed at ensuring they are “treated fairly and benefit from the experience”.

Council director Paul Lawrence said policies deployed by the festivals were being reviewed to help create a “consistent code of practice.”

He added: “In order to protect the volunteer and the organisation, a code of 
practice should be developed to clearly define what is expected of organisations who use volunteers, how they should be treated, what benefits should be available and to ensure volunteer roles are not used to replace paid employment.”

A spokesman for the Better Than Zero campaign said: “We welcome any attempt to improve current guidelines for volunteers working at events to ensure that they are treated fairly, particularly given the recent controversy around the use of unpaid workers at the Hogmanay celebrations.”

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay said: “We fully support the council’s decision to introduce a code of best practice on the use of volunteers and welcome the opportunity to contribute our knowledge and experience.”

A Fringe spokesman said: “We are working closely with venues and the council to address areas for improvement and ensure that everyone who works or volunteers has the best experience.”