Arts union urges Fringe workers to speak up after whistleblowing website launched

Stuart Rodger

Whisteblowing website seeking to document examples of bad practice

A trade union representing workers in the entertainment industry has urged Fringe workers to speak up about bad practice following the launch of a whisteblowing website seeking to highlight exploitation.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Paul McManus, Scottish organizer of the Bectu trade union said: “The first step in addressing any employment issues is for the workers to tell Bectu exactly what is going on and we have already had a number of calls from our members highlighting similar concerns about some venues at this year’s Fringe.”

The intervention follows the launch of a Whistleblowing website which seeks to document examples of exploitation and poor working conditions. Describing their objectives, Fringe Whistleblower say on their website. “Fringe Whistleblower was created by an anonymous collective of artists and producers who are increasingly dismayed at the state of the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Sites like the whistleblower one are an important source of information to us.” Paul McManus, Bectu

They added: “Most artists do not get paid at the Edinburgh Fringe: in fact, many lose money. Many venue staff work in very difficult working and sometimes unlawful conditions, including 12-hour shifts for six or seven days a week with minimal pay. Those making a profit from the Fringe are doing so through exploiting artists and front-line workers.”

The website has so far received stories about people signing ‘voluntary’ contracts for an effective hourly rate of 60p an hour, ticket staff being immediately laid off after shows have sold out, staff working between 10 and 18 hour shifts, dangerously high temperatures in venues, and staff being told off for taking rest breaks. One contributor said: “The fringe is built off the backs of exploited young people.”

McManus continued: “Sites like the whistleblower one are an important source of information to us. Naturally, Bectu will be raising these concerns directly with the companies concerned and we are committed to working with them to ensure that they not only comply with employment legislation but ultimately go beyond that to adopt the best practices promoted jointly by BECTU and the Fringe Society.”

“It is not acceptable for employers to avoid their statutory obligations on the minimum wage or health and safety.” Paul McManus, Bectu

He added: “Bectu has many years experience of representing workers at festivals and events across the UK and there is absolutely no acceptable reason for any workers to be working excessive hours or not to be getting days off or proper rest breaks. Just as importantly, it is not acceptable for employers to avoid their statutory obligations on the minimum wage or health and safety.”

The entertainment union recently published a code of conduct for Fringe venues outlining the rights of Fringe workers. The code is designed as “guidance” and was drawn up with the agreement of the Fringe Society.

“Bectu and the Fringe Society agreed the code of conduct as a first joint step in encouraging venues and employers at the Fringe to not only comply with legal minimums but to move towards best practice,” McManus said.

“This initiative came about from numerous concerns raised at last year’s Fringe by Bectu members over exactly the sort of issues highlighted on the whistleblowing website,” concluding, “where necessary we will be robust in ensuring that our members receive their full statutory entitlements.”

A Fringe Society spokesperson said: “We would welcome the opportunity for an open dialogue with the creators of this website and survey, the results of which we would be keen to see. Our aim is always for all those who choose to be involved in the Fringe, in whatever capacity, to have the best experience possible, and we welcome feedback in all forms.

“We would be delighted to work with the creators, alongside Fringe venues and companies, once the results are known for the good of the Fringe as a whole."

Picture courtesy of Hamish Irvine / Flickr

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