CONTROVERSIAL plans to recruit an army of unpaid workers to help stage Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations have come under renewed pressure after Nicola Sturgeon insisted volunteers “must never be exploited”.

Underbelly, which took over the running of the world-famous event earlier this year, has advertised for more than 300 unpaid roles to work at the extravaganza this year.

But the move has come under fire from unions and politicians, and last week leading charity Volunteer Scotland removed a post on its website detailing how to apply for the roles following pressure from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

The First Minister said the delivery of the winter festivals was “a matter for Underbelly”.

But she added: “I understand that the event will be staffed with 1700 paid staff. Can I say this about volunteers – volunteering is a good thing.

“Volunteers contribute hugely to festivals and major events – that was the case at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, it was the case earlier this year at the Edinburgh festival.

“However, those who contribute voluntarily to making these events a success must be treated fairly and they must never be exploited.

“Volunteers should complement paid professionals to deliver an event, and 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 the volunteers are treated fairly.

“And we would 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.

“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 this dispute is resolved quickly and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the roaring success we have come to expect.”

Ms Sturgeon spoke out during First Minister’s Questions, after being asked by Green MSP Alison Johnstone whether she agreed that “volunteers should not be recruited as a simple alternative to employed paid staff”.

Ms Johnstone said: “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 these roles being paid in previous years.

“The Better Than Zero campaign has described the move as using volunteers to displace paid work and have threatened to raise a number of tribunal cases against the organisers over the issue.”

Underbelly has vigorously denied claims that volunteers are replacing paid staff.

A spokeswoman said last week: "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 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."

Edinburgh council estimates the city's Hogmanay events bring in £40 million every year, with tickets to the world-famous street party costing £26.

Underbelly - one of the Edinburgh Fringe's biggest venue operators - won a contract to take over the event earlier this year.

Advertising the volunteer positions, which included supervisors and "street party hosts", Edinburgh's Hogmanay said they would be the "welcoming faces" of the event.

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

The move marks the first time unpaid workers will be used during the Hogmanay celebrations, which were previously run by Unique Events.