Edinburgh’s hogmanay festival attracts visitors from around the world and is one of the highlights of Scotland’s cultural calendar. This year, around 300 unpaid volunteers are being hired as hogmanay ambassadors for the event, despite the fact that, in previous years, it was a paid role. The better than zero campaign has described the move as
“using volunteers to ‘displace paid work’” and has threatened to raise a number of tribunal cases against the organisers over the issue.
Does the First Minister agree that we must have greater clarity on the role of volunteers at large-scale events and that volunteers should not be recruited simply as an alternative to employing paid staff?
Yes, I do. The delivery of Edinburgh’s hogmanay is a matter for Underbelly, the company that has been contracted to produce the event by the City of Edinburgh Council. I understand that the event will be staffed with 1,700 paid staff.
I have an important point to make about volunteers. We would all agree, I think, that volunteering is a good thing. Volunteers contribute hugely to festivals and major events. That was the case at the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow and earlier this year at the Edinburgh festival. However, those who contribute voluntarily to making such events a success must be treated fairly and must never be exploited. Volunteers should complement paid professionals in the delivery of an event and should never replace those paid professionals. The value of volunteers should not be used to reduce contract costs.
We expect organisers of major events to work with Volunteer Scotland to ensure that the volunteers are treated fairly; we also expect organisers to follow the charter that Volunteer Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress put in place to strengthen relationships between volunteers and paid staff.
I welcome the fact that all parties in this particular dispute have agreed to get round the table and discuss the matter with Volunteer Scotland. Volunteer Scotland has suspended promotion of the opportunities on its website until the dispute is resolved. I hope that the dispute is resolved quickly and that Edinburgh’s hogmanay is the roaring success that we have come to expect.