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Every August thousands of performers, comedians, workers and tourists flock to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. With over 50,000 performances in over 300 venues across the city, the Fringe markets itself as the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet, welcoming an explosion of creative energy from around the globe.

Alice BownAlthough this may be the case, something that the Fringe also seems to welcome is the bad treatment of workers. Workers employed by companies operating in the Fringe report being paid far less than the minimum wage, working excessively long hours and working under shoddy ‘self-employed’ contracts which mask their true status and limit their rights. The exploitative gig economy runs deep in the Fringe, with big companies taking all the profits whilst taking advantage of an army of precarious workers who are working hard to try and ensure the festival runs smoothly. The Fringe may be fun for most, but for these exploited workers, that is certainly not the case.

The Fair Fringe, a campaign organised by Better than Zero , Unite Hospitality and Scottish Labour Young Socialists, attempts to tackle this head on by fighting against exploitative pay and conditions. Last week, I attended the Fair Fringe stall in Edinburgh on behalf of Thompsons Solicitors to provide legal advice and support to workers who were unsure of their rights.  Although there are hundreds of workers shipped in to the city to work every Fringe, very few are aware of their rights to a national minimum wage and rest breaks. The Fair Fringe campaigns for workers to receive the real living wage, rest breaks, for all workers to receive a contract of employment, equal pay for young workers, an end to unpaid trial shifts, for workers to be consulted on rota changes and for trade union recognition. All of these demands are hardly revolutionary, in fact, most are basic employment rights. So why do some of the main Fringe bosses refuse to grant their workers something that most take for granted? There is only one answer; Profit.

As trade union lawyers we know that in order to change bad working practices, workers need to come together and stand up for their rights. Thompsons Solicitors fully support the Fair Fringe Campaign and we welcome festival workers making contact with us to seek legal advice and representation. If you are a worker in the Fringe and want advice on your employment rights, the Fair Fringe campaign is holding stalls at Summerhall on Thursday 23rd August 2018 and Saturday 25th August 2018. If you want to expose your Fringe employer as a Bad Boss, please nominate them for a not so prestigious Bad Boss Award on the Fair Fringe website. I sincerely hope that by the next festival, employers have met the demands of the Fair Fringe Campaign and that workers are treated fairly and with dignity. Art and creativity are important in society, but festivals like the Fringe should not be built on the shoulders of exploited workers.  

Blog by Alice Bowman, Employment Team

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