Scottish Festivals Ask Staff to Work for Nothing… and to Pay for the Privilege of Being There

The treatment of staff at live music events has come under the spotlight over the past week after 200 bar workers were sent home unpaid following the chaotic last minute cancellation of Green Day’s planned gig in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow on Tuesday. This came despite most staff having already been on-site for two hours to undergo training. So far, the promoters have refused to comment on the issue although they have been coming under increasing pressure, including from the local MP.

It has now emerged that other music festivals in Scotland are avoiding the controversy of zero hours staff going unpaid by simply refusing to pay festival staff from the outset. Two music festivals being held in Scotland this summer are hiring stewarding staff on a “pay to work” basis, requiring them to both work for nothing and then pay applications fees just to be there. This blog has identified two corporate festivals which are using an events staffing agency that not only refuses to pay its workers, but seeks both a £20 deposit and a £15 processing fee from prospective volunteers just to be considered for festival roles. There is then no guarantee they will be given a volunteer position.

Among the numerous UK festivals using the FeStaff agency are:

  • the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, a well established event held near Inverness each August, this year featuring acts including Sister Sledge, Franz Ferdinand and The Pretenders; and
  • Carnival 56, a new event to be held in Dundee’s Camperdown Park next month, featuring Mark Ronson, Basement Jaxx, Rudimental and Clean Bandit.

Both events are seeking volunteer stewarding staff, charged with overseeing the safety of thousands of festival goers, and asking them to work 2 x 8 hour shifts over the duration of the event.

This is presented alongside the promise of a “free” wristband for the festival, with the implication that volunteers will be able to use their time off to enjoy the festival and take in some of the acts. However, with shifts to be decided on site, there are no guarantees on what hours volunteers would find themselves contracted to. They are also required to show up one day in advance of the festival starting.

While Belladrum is a three day event, Carnival 56  is set to be held over two days, meaning volunteers are unlikely to have time to see much outside of their working hours. On top of the 16 hours of unpaid work, stewards are also expected to attend unpaid training and are asked to camp overnight at the festival, which does not otherwise offer camping.

If paid at the current minimum wage rate for over-25s of £7.50 an hour, a 16 hour stewarding shift would come to £120 gross. Weekend tickets for the Carnival 56 are £112 including fees.

It usually goes unsaid that nearly all music festivals are reliant on large pools of precarious, underpaid and undervalued labour, much of it from young people. While vast profits are raked in by organisers, headline acts can command huge sums and an entire industry of events managers and PR consultants take considerable fees for their input, on the ground the entire operation is dependent on an army of young workers on minimum wage. They are expected to put aside expectations of normal working conditions in return for the chance to access the “festival experience”, frequently asked to provide their own camping equipment, pay for transport to remote festival sites (often provided but then taken out of their wages) and undergo unpaid training.

If you can’t afford to pay your staff properly, you shouldn’t be running a music festival – it really is as simple as that. Corporate music festivals are vast money making exercises and there is no excuse for their exploitation of young workers.

The Belladrum festival typically sells outs its 15,000 tickets and is controlled by the family which owns Belladrum Estate. Those behind Carnival 56 previously organised the “Festival of House” event in Angus last year, which was then cancelled after a licensing wrangle with authorities. Carnival 56 have boasted about having  “international companies like Red Bull and McDonalds” involved with the festival.

The events are now expected to come under pressure from precarious work campaigners, including the STUC-funded Better Than Zero network.

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Further reading:

Deliveroo Makes Its Workers Pay £150 For Their Own Uniforms

Revealed: Panicking G1 Bosses Try to Silence Their Own Staff

King of Low Pay: G1 Group Named and Shamed For Not Paying Minimum Wage

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5 responses to “Scottish Festivals Ask Staff to Work for Nothing… and to Pay for the Privilege of Being There

  1. I don’t know if any festival that doesn’t use an agency that uses volunteers in some form or another. There’s an interesting point that volunteers are less at risk of exploitation as they’re not relying on the role for money, they are making a choice based the opportunity being offered, and are not pressured in to it at all. Although if a festival is going to use volunteers, there are a few organisations out there raising money for charity instead.

  2. With all due respect…

    I’ve worked festaff for a number of years (not any more now I have a kid) and it was the only way my large group of friends could afford to go to a festival. We had some wonderful experiences and wouldn’t have done it – wouldn’t have CHOSEN to do it – if we didn’t enjoy it. I think you’ve misunderstood that the word volunteer means people voluntarily choose to become one.

    Yes, I can get paid £15 per hour to work there as security or £8 per hour as bar staff but then I wouldn’t have fun, it would be a job. They have a different experience at the festival from us wristband crews which is why I voluntarily choose to sign up, knowing full well what I am getting into. Please don’t try and save me from a choice I’m perfectly happy making…

    “It usually goes unsaid that nearly all music festivals are reliant on large pools … undervalued labour”

    Seems like you have an axe to grind here. I’ve worked T in the Park, Rockness, Wickerman, Leeds Festival, Beatherder and more and never once have I felt undervalued. Good meals, a nice staff campsite with showers, getting there a day early, pep talks from the promoters, a good management team if there are any issues.. yeah, I’m very happy.

    “While vast profits are raked in by organisers”

    Some festivals make money. A lot of festivals lose money. Wickerman, did that make vast amounts of money? What about Rockness? How’s about Connect? How’s Festival on the Wall doing? Isle of Wight? Bestival? What about Wakestock? Down to the Woods? Scarborough Fair? Forgotten Fields? The Big Chill? Cloud 9? Mad Ferret. Sonisphere. Brownstock. Beacons. T in the Park. Big Kahuna. Redstock. Shrewsbury Fields Forever.

    The list goes on….

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