Charity axes links to “exploitative” volunteering roles

Edinburgh new year crop

Campaigners say street party host positions are not genuine volunteer roles, but are private sector exploitation

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18th December 2017 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

A major Scottish charity has distanced itself from controversial volunteering positions at Edinburgh’s new year celebrations.

Volunteer Scotland has pulled an advert for unpaid workers at the bash after private sector organisers Underbelly came under fire from campaigners, trade unionists and MSPs.

The charity has removed a post detailing how to apply for the roles, which have been branded as “exploitative”.

Underbelly is looking to fill 280 positions where people would act as unpaid supervisors and “street party hosts”.

However, the anti-low pay Better Than Zero campaign group said this amounts to private sector exploitation.

Its spokesman, Bryan Simpson, welcomed Volunteer Scotland pulling the ad.

He said: “We are pleased that Volunteer Scotland has taken down the Underbelly advert from its website. Any credibility that Underbelly had to justify these jobs as genuine volunteer opportunities has now vanished like the wages that the workers should be getting.

“Volunteering should be about giving-back to your local community not lining the pockets of private companies like Underbelly who have contributed very little to the people. 

“At £26 per ticket, this is set to be the most expensive Hogmanay so far with Underbelly set to make millions from the event and yet almost 300 of those who will staff the event won’t receive a penny in wages.”

This was backed by Dave Moxham, deputy general secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC), who said the organisation values “genuine volunteering which is to the benefit of individual volunteers and society more generally,” but added: “however, 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.”

It is understood that Volunteer Scotland pulled the ads while it discusses with the STUC and Underbelly whether to volunteering roles replace paid positions at the event.

A spokeswoman for Underbelly said: “Underbelly absolutely refutes STUC’s claims that our volunteer programme replaces any paid for roles and stands by our ambassador programme and the mutual benefits that it is set to bring.

“It is completely unfounded that we are looking to replace paid for employment. Anything to the contrary is pure subjection.

“Underbelly welcomed the invitation to meet with the STUC and Volunteer Scotland to discuss STUC concerns surrounding the volunteer engagement campaign.

“However, at the request of the STUC, this meeting went ahead without Underbelly present. Volunteer Scotland has told us that they have removed their advertisement to maintain a balanced position until these talks had taken place.

“We are actively seeking to meet with the STUC as soon as possible and we are very much open to continuing a dialogue with key partners which further develops future opportunities and ensures that we are delivering the best possible experience and practice.”

This will be the first time volunteers have been used in the celebrations, which were previously staged by Unique Events.

Underbelly has said all volunteers would be provided with meal vouchers, reasonable travel expenses and a personalised certificate sent by email.