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Ex-Edinburgh Fringe worker speaks out about ‘slave’ wages and exploitation
Ryan Fletcher, Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

A former Edinburgh Fringe worker has spoken out about suffering a breakdown after being exploited and paid “slave” wages.


Shira Kaliski, 25, blew the whistle on working conditions at events company C Venues – a firm Unite says is one of worst offenders for exploitative practices at the Fringe.


The union is demanding improved pay and conditions for workers at the August festival – many of whom are denied proper wages by being misclassified as volunteers – as part of the Fair Fringe campaign.


Speaking about her experiences with C Venues, which last month lost the right to use a major venue after it was accused of being “built on exploitation”, Kaliski said, “C Venues should not be getting away with treating people the way they are.”


She told the Sunday Mail, “I had a breakdown in 2017 because it was so bad and I was one of the managers. Other workers were getting an even worse deal than me. It was a disgrace.


“The people at the bottom were on as little as £200 for the entire four weeks of the Fringe, working 10 hours a day for the full month with just three days off,” she added.


“For managers, pay ranged from about £600 to just over £1000 a month,” he added. “But in terms of hours worked, it was still nowhere near the minimum wage as 15-hour days were normal.


“I would start work at 7am and be expected to keep going until midnight.


“You get free accommodation during the festival but for most of the workers in my team, that meant sharing a room with three other people.


“I was considered lucky for getting a room of my own and everyone was working intense hours.


“You were never given food, which I thought was a disgrace. The hours were so long the only option was to buy takeaways, which are really expensive in Edinburgh during the festival.


“I finished the job hundreds of pounds in debt and I’m pretty sure it was the same for most of the people working for the company.”


Bryan Simpson of Unite Hospitality has also spoken to Fringe workers who report all manner of abuse, from underpayment of the minimum wage by misclassifying workers as “volunteers”, to sexual harassment to excessively long – and illegal – shifts.


Commenting on C Venues, Simpson said the firm had for 20 years “built a huge empire from the hard work of so-called volunteers who we believe should have been classed as employees and paid at least the minimum wage”.


“Instead, they were paid as little as £200 for four weeks’ work in what appears to be a clear breach of legislation,” Simpson added.


“As a private limited company, C Venues don’t appear to fulfil the definition of an organisation excluded from needing to pay the minimum wage.


“We would urge them to change their policy and pay workers the real living wage in line with the Fair Fringe Charter.”


The charter has nine demands, including payment of the real living wage, rest breaks, equal pay for young workers, minimum hour contracts and trade union access.


Responding to the allegations C Venues said it is a “volunteer-focused” organisation that is “committed to promoting best practice at the Fringe”.


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