Glastonbury Festival accused of exploiting hundreds of European workers on zero hours contracts

Exclusive: A week after Jeremy Corbyn spoke about workers' rights on the Pyramid Stage, people who travelled to Worthy Farm from Poland, Spain and the Czech Republic are laid off en masse

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Saturday 01 July 2017 20:45 BST
Glastonbury workers protest at Worthy Farm

Glastonbury Festival hired hundreds of workers from across Europe on zero hours contracts and then fired them after just two days, The Independent can reveal.

Organisers were accused of taking advantage of some 700 people who were signed up as litter pickers expecting two weeks of paid employment after the acts and festival-goers had gone home, only to leave some three quarters stranded and out of pocket in the Somerset countryside.

It comes one week after Jeremy Corbyn's high-profile appearance on the festival's Pyramid Stage with organiser Michael Eavis, in which the Labour leader received rapturous applause for saying young people need not "accept low wages and insecurity as just part of life".

Workers had travelled to Somerset from countries including Czech Republic, Spain, Poland and Latvia after being handed zero hours contracts to help with the large-scale clean-up operation on Worthy Farm.

Jeremy Corbyn and Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis (right) on the Pyramid Stage
Jeremy Corbyn and Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis (right) on the Pyramid Stage (Getty)

However it appears that this year’s good weather, as well as the use of charity workers and on-site litter crews during the festival, meant that there was less rubbish after the event had finished. Up to 600 workers are understood to have now been laid off.

Video footage obtained by The Independent shows the sacked workers asking at least to be fed before they will leave the campsite. In the video, a man understood to be a litter-picking supervisor manhandles workers as they obstruct vehicles in protest, telling them they should be grateful for the two days' work.

Simon Kadlcak, from Czech Republic, told The Independent that he had arrived at Worthy Farm on Monday 26 June and started working the next day. He had heard about the opportunity from friends who also signed up to work via an online form.

"We found out quite soon that there was not as much garbage as usual, so there was less work,” he said. “Rumours were being spread about what would happen and there was no proper information.”

After two days of work, Mr Kadlcak said many people were told there was not enough work for them, with only about 100 people being kept on.

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"There are people without work still sleeping in tents here because they have nowhere to go, they were expecting two weeks of work,” he said. “One person tried to find us other jobs in the area and get food for us for the weekend.

"The organisers have to have known that there was not enough work for that amount of people. No one spoke to us before, there were these rumours and people are quite nervous about it. No one let us know until yesterday afternoon, they just put up a list of the 100 people who were able to keep working.”

He added that some people had booked return flights and were being forced to stay in the UK until they could go home. Many of the workers have left the farm and are attempting to find work elsewhere in order to recoup their losses from travel, food and accommodation.

Workers on site at Worthy Farm after Glastonbury Festival
Workers on site at Worthy Farm after Glastonbury Festival (The Independent/Cheryl Roberts)

The situation is particularly unfortunate for organisers given Mr Eavis's appearance on stage with Mr Corbyn during the festival.

As well as calling for better treatment of workers, the Labour leader asked whether it is right that "European nationals living in this country" face uncertainty about their future.

"I say they all must stay, and they all must be part of our world, and be part of our community," he said. "Because what festivals, what this festival is about, is about coming together. This festival was envisaged as being for music yes, but also for the environment, and for peace."

Cheryl Roberts, a British woman working on the site, said she was "ashamed" of how the labourers were being treated.

"Corbyn was the headliner of Glastonbury, really, he attracted the largest crowd with his speech,” she said. "So for Glastonbury not to have the decency to feed a group of workers that have travelled thousands of miles to be here, after supporting his speech about immigration and foreign workers… it just reeks of hypocrisy and is quite frankly embarrassing."

Litter-pickers asked to be fed after they were left disappointed by the amount of work on offer (The Independent/Cheryl Roberts)
Litter-pickers asked to be fed after they were left disappointed by the amount of work on offer (The Independent/Cheryl Roberts)

Two small protests have been held over two days outside an office on site.

Video of one of them, on Saturday afternoon, shows a supervisor telling a worker: “Everyone is on a zero hours contract. We have no commitment to feed these people, they’re on paid jobs, their job is over.

“I don’t think it is the responsibility of Glastonbury or anyone else to feed these people. They are responsible adults who can feed themselves… no one is stopping them from leaving the farm to get food.”

Gonzalo Gomez, a 24-year-old from Spain, said he and eight friends had arrived at the site expecting a week’s work. He said that they had stayed in London for three days before the festival and were hoping to make their money back by working on-site afterwards.

“We thought we’d have about a week’s work,” he said. “On the first day we were working a lot with no rest. Now there’s not enough work for everyone - there are about 550 people leaving, and they don’t have the money to get a hotel or change their flights. It’s very hard.”

Robin Denton, 53, from South Africa, told The Independent that he had been coming to the festival to help pick up rubbish every year since 1997 and had “never seen the people treated so badly”.

“I’ve seen how things have changed and I think the main problem is the zero hour contract,” he said. “It says ‘if we don’t need you, goodbye’.

“In 1997 Michael Eavis would put £20 in our hands and say ‘thank you for helping us’. Over the years it’s regressed, and this particular year is the worst I’ve seen. I can’t understand the hypocrisy of it all.

“They’ve come up with the clever idea to use volunteers during the festival to pick up rubbish, so what took up to 14 days after the festival now doesn't take as long. People spend a lot of money to get here expecting up to two weeks work, and after two and a half days they’ve been told to go home."

The Independent has contacted Glastonbury organisers and put the workers' accusations and concerns to a spokesperson. Representatives for the festival declined to comment on the record.

A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said: "Labour is committed to ending zero hour contracts, which was included in our manifesto, and the next Labour government will end zero hour contracts."

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