Volunteer Scotland disavows Underbelly bogus 'volunteer' posts

December 15th 2017

Following a request from the STUC, Volunteer Scotland has removed from its website an advertisement for over 300 unpaid roles, which include supervisory and managerial posts, to staff the official Edinburgh Hogmanay 18 event.

Underbelly, a private company which won the public contract to run the landmark cultural event, wants staff to work throughout the night in exchange for limited travel expenses and a certificate.

The exploitative initiative was highlighted by the Better than Zero campaign against precarious work, and the Fair Fringe campaign that is fighting for better conditions for workers at the Fringe and other cultural events in Edinbugh.

Volunteer Scotland’s de-legitimation of the roles now casts doubt on Edinburgh City Council’s ongoing support for Underbelly’s plans. It also raises questions about how the roles were described in the winning contract accepted by the council, which favoured Underbelly’s bid over Unique Event’s, partly on grounds of lower costs. Despite repeated requests for clarity the details of the tender remain secret.

The roles breach a set of principles agreed to by Volunteer Scotland and the STUC. They replace posts that were paid by Unique last year, in breach the principle that volunteer roles should not replace paid staff, and they also require volunteers to attend up to 9.5 hours of mandatory training. Similar roles at the Edinburgh Christmas 18, also run by Underbelly, will be paid positions.

Volunteer Scotland and the STUC have agreed that principles of fair volunteering should be reconsidered in light of the alarming increase exploitative practices in the events and entertainment sector, such as those used by Underbelly.

Dave Moxham:

‘Like VDS, we value the importance of genuine volunteering which is to the benefit of individual volunteers and society more generally. But the principles of volunteering risk being stretched to destruction by attempts of private events and entertainment companies like Underbelly. These companies prey on the young people trying to gain a foot-hold in industries like events and entertainment, and court organisations and public bodies to gain legitimacy.

‘We need to be vigilant in preventing unpaid work from becoming the norm, and Volunteer Scotland's decision to remove the posts sets an encouraging precedent. We look forward to working with Volunteer Scotland to clarify that volunteering is about giving time to the community and society for its own sake, and not a cost-cutting fix for profit-making ventures.’

‘We welcome the efforts of campaigns like Better than Zero and Fair Fringe efforts to expose the malpractice and manipulation that is marring Scotland’s vibrant cultural scene, and look forward to watching their campaign against Underbelly develop in the run-up to New Year.’

George Thomson said:

“Volunteer Scotland has a long standing jointly signed charter with the STUC which includes the key principle of volunteers not substituting for paid staff. The STUC think that Underbelly volunteering opportunities are breaching this principle, and are in dispute along with Unite Union, and Better than Zero youth led campaign. All promotion of Underbelly volunteering opportunities by Volunteer Scotland have been suspended pending the resolution of the dispute.”

Notes

Link to posts advertised by Underbelly: https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com/get-involved/volunteer

Point of Contact: Sarah Wiktorski, Campaigns and Communications Officer, STUC, 0141 337 8122

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