Solidarity with Precarious Workers Brigade

Precarious Workers Brigade are challenging the culture of volunteerism and the discrimination it perpetuates. Check out our letter in support of PWB below the response from Jonathan Reekie, Somerset House.

7th October 2016
Dear Theresa

I’m very sorry that I have taken so long to reply. I was away when you wrote and have not been very successful in catching up with the backlog.

Thanks for getting in touch. We completely support what you and the Precarious Workers Brigade are doing. We do believe there are certain situations where volunteering is a positive and non-exploitative experience and we have clear guidelines about this. As you know in general everyone here is on the London Living Wage at least.

I wouldn’t describe ourselves as large and wealthy though I admit it probably looks that way. As a charity we are responsible for a huge and expensive building without any public support and we offer a lot of free public cultural events. We are also planning to offer heavily subsidised artist workspace in the near future. Like all charities we have to make choices about where we put our money though we are clear we should never exploit our workers.

Looking forward we will certainly keep in mind your comments and once again thank you for writing.

Best wishes


19th September 2016
Volunteers at Bjork Digital Somerset House
FAO: Jonathan Reekie Somerset House Director

Dear Jonathan
Artists Union England supports the work of Precarious Workers Brigade in attempting “to break through the consensual code of silence” to highlight the rise of youth unemployment and the expectation of volunteerism and unpaid work.
AUE wholly acknowledge the increase in youth unemployment and the expectation of voluntary work being the only option available for young people to gain work experience. However as PWB point out the opportunity to work for free is only on offer to those who can afford to work for free, a situation familiar to members in our trade union. AUE are not against volunteering per se, a majority of the work carried out by AUE is offered on a voluntary basis. Somerset House in offering the opportunity to volunteer at this event can only really benefit those in a position to take up unpaid work, which can only as PWB point out “foster inequality, perpetuate privilege and create a lack of diversity”.
There is a responsibility of large wealthy institutions to support emerging ‘creative industries’ by offering paid work. Somerset House has a solid grounding with its determination to pay the London Living Wage and should build on this by attracting paid workers with an interest in “this new technology” and invest in their labour.
AUE is encouraged by the transparency Somerset House has shown in their engagement with PWB and would support further honest dialogue. This is an important insight into the mechanisms of the organisation and something AUE will share with their members.
AUE members devised payment guidelines for members to refer to in order to break the culture of working for free or as little as possible.

We would like to draw your attention to not only our pay guidelines but to those of our sister trade unions BECTU, PCS, Equity & MU.

We look forward to your thoughts and comments and would urge a review of your volunteer opportunity,

Kind Regards

Theresa Easton
Secretary AUE