An open letter to all Dundee Councillors from the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network and Better than Zero
We are deeply concerned about the use of unpaid labour for stewarding the forthcoming music festival, Carnival 56, in Camperdown Park. We are aware that this has become a standard practice, but that does not make it acceptable; and as this is public land, the City Council must take some responsibility. Major music festivals are large commercial enterprises from which businesses expect to make a good profit. Like other commercial enterprises, they should be expected to pay their staff. There are many people in Dundee looking for and desperately needing paid work. Some of these may even feel pressure to ‘volunteer’ and allow themselves to be exploited for the sake of their CV.
When we shared information about this on the SUWN blog it met with almost universal condemnation. One or two people argued that it was OK because the work was enjoyable, but this is not an argument applied to paid jobs! Others recalled less than enjoyable experiences from similar events, but that is not really the point. A fair day’s work should be rewarded with a fair day’s pay, and a major commercial event such as this should provide an opportunity for people to earn some much needed income.
Volunteers are effectively undercutting and destroying potential paid jobs. They are also getting a dreadfully bad bargain. A weekend ticket with booking fee costs £112.90. Volunteer stewards will have to put in two 8 hour shifts plus training – say 18 hours in total. They will also have to pay a £15 processing fee, and provide their own camping equipment including all food – even toilet paper. If you are over 25, 18 hours on the minimum wage plus the fee makes £150, which is considerably more than the ticket price, and most of the time you are stuck at your post stewarding. Even if you are 18 the equivalent wages plus fee would be £115.80. Plus you need to have cash for the deposit. In a society with properly paid work, people who want to go to a festival should be able to pay for it out of their wages and enjoy it to the full.
There is, rightly, growing concern about exploitation at the bottom of the labour market and the increasing use of unpaid labour. Volunteering should be for community organisations and charities, not businesses. Large music festivals should not be treated as though they were village fetes. We are asking Dundee City Council to request that the organisers reconsider their use of volunteers, and, most importantly, that agreements for any future such event in the City stipulate that all work must be paid for, preferably with a genuine living wage.
We hope, of course, that you will want to bring an end to this exploitation, but as activist organisations, we will continue to campaign on the issue as needed.
We have already had this almost instant response from SNP Councillor Ken Lynn, who wrote:
Lets see if we can turn this into council policy, and not just in Dundee!
Ken Lynn’s comments were quickly seconded by Fraser Macpherson of the Libdems, and our letter and Councillor Lynn’s response were reported in the Dundee Courier. They spoke to the festival organiser who protested that he had paid a ‘considerable fee’ to the company that recruits and organises the volunteer labour – money which would clearly have been better spent paying people for their work – and that our letter was ‘very misleading’ , although it was entirely based on details from that company’s own website. We shall be keeping up the pressure to make sure that all those who work at future commercial events get properly paid!