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Dark side of the Edinburgh Fringe: exploitation and low pay

This news post is almost 7 years old

​Edinburgh Fringe workers and activists are campaigning for employers to sign up to a charter setting out fair working conditions

A group of workers and activists in Edinburgh have launched the Fair Fringe campaign to fight against unfair and exploitative working conditions during the Edinburgh Festival.

“The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is one of the greatest events on earth”, the Fair Fringe websites proclaims.

However, this coalition of young campaigners are raising awareness of the low wages and poor working conditions faced by many people who work at the Fringe, the largest global arts and theatre festival.

The group, made up of Fringe workers, Unite Hospitality and Better than Zero trade unionists, and activists from Scottish Labour Young Socialists, is calling on Fringe employers to sign up to a charter for Fringe workers.

The charter sets out nine key pledges that all Fringe employers should adhere to, including paying all staff the real living wage of £8.45 an hour, an anti-sexual harassment policy, enforcement of rest breaks, 100% tips to staff, and access to trade union membership.

One former Fringe employee, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed: "In 2015 I was working 55 hour weeks in catering at the Fringe. My shifts were either eight or nine and a half hours long, six days a week.

"I was frequently given more duties than in my job description since we were understaffed, and often I was kept on after I was due to finish."

"It was exhausting and I found both my physical and mental health deteriorating and felt burnt out for months afterwards."

Busty Beatz from Fringe show Hot Brown Honey
Busty Beatz from Fringe show Hot Brown Honey

Fair Fringe has received support from a number of MSPs from Scottish Labour, the Scottish Greens and the SNP, including Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and leader of the Scottish Greens Patrick Harvie.

Ross Greer, Scottish Green MSP for West of Scotland, submitted a motion last week to the Scottish Parliament in support of the campaign and its aims. The campaigners also launched a petition for supporters to share, for calling attention to the campaign.

Kirsty Haigh of the Fair Fringe campaign said: “Fringe workers, just like everyone else, deserve to have their rights in the workplace respected. They deserve to earn a wage they can live off and young workers deserve equal pay for equal work.

“We need to change the culture of acceptance in the Fringe where exploitation and exhaustion are seen as standard. We need a Fringe that works for everyone”

Bryan Simpson from Unite Hospitality, a trade union campaign specifically for hospitality workers, added: "Last year we received reports of widespread use of exploitative practices by Fringe employers including being paid £10 per 1000 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. The Fair Fringe campaign seeks to improve the wages and conditions of Fringe staff alongside the workers themselves."

The group is keen to share the stories of Fringe workers who have faced or are currently experiencing precarious working conditions, with an anonymous survey to highlight their treatment.

The Fair Fringe campaign has a website, a Facebookand a Twitter page.