A union has demanded a Scottish music festival drops deposit charges for volunteers, which have been described as “ransom” for hours of "unpaid labour". 

Doune the Rabbit Hole (DTRH) in Stirling is requesting volunteers willing to work at the festival to pay a deposit of up to £145.

The festival’s website adds that it will be refunded “if you turn up to shifts on time, in a fit state and complete all your shifts” - but worker's rights groups questioned the possible "threat of withheld deposits". 

While it is stated that this is to ensure volunteers have shown their “commitment” to volunteering, they will also have to wait up to a month for the money to be returned, despite bank processing taking a maximum of ten working days.

Paul McManus from Bectu, the media and entertainment union, called the volunteering adverts "deeply concerning". 

He added that "the fact that any festival charges volunteers is completely immoral". 

The union has written to DTRH organisers requesting they withdraw the volunteering charges and adverts, which have also prompted safety concerns. 

Mr McManus said organisers "specifically assured" the union that volunteers would not be used in safety-critical areas such as construction work or building sites. 

Yet the DTRH website reads that 'build and break' volunteers will be "constructing stages". 

"We will be putting a warning out to our members that we now have serious safety concerns this year," Mr McManus said. 

He added about the deposit charges: "Bectu doesn't believe that any commercial festival should be trying to use volunteers in this way." 

Unite Hospitality told the Herald that they would be speaking to members who are involved with the festivals about the matter.

READ MORE: 'Morally indefensible': Unions urge councillors to block music festival over debts

Bryan Simpson, lead organiser for the union, said: “To refuse not only to pay your workers at a festival but to charge them for the privilege of volunteering is not just morally unacceptable, it’s potentially unlawful.

“The moment you exchange money with a worker you must pay them at least the minimum wage. It undermines the volunteer legal definition so these workers must be paid as workers and not as volunteers.”

The Scottish Government’s national volunteering framework defines the act as a “choice undertaken of one’s own free will and a choice not motivated for financial gain or for a wage or salary”.

Volunteer Scotland’s Charter adds that if there is “any compulsion, threat of sanctions or force, then any such activity is not volunteering”.

Mr Simpson added: “We will be speaking to our members in the coming days to confirm what they want to do about this collectively.”

The deposit sum depends on when volunteers apply with anyone applying before the end of this month expected to pay £95, before it rises up to £145. The website boasts that this is “less than half the price of a weekend ticket” that is currently at an early bird price of up to £210.

Better than Zero, a worker’s rights campaign launched by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, raised concerns that volunteer work is being used to “exploit” those who cannot afford tickets.

Jon Heggie, of Better than Zero, said: "The increasingly common use of unpaid labour undermines wages across the entire workforce, and is something that should deeply concern us all.

“While this is nothing new, festival organisers are very much aware that workers have less disposable income than ever during a cost-of-living crisis.

“They are keen to capitalise on this by exploiting those for whom festival tickets are an unaffordable luxury. 

“Doune the Rabbit Hole is a particularly appalling case of this. Workers are expected to deposit £100 for the privilege of providing 18 hours of unpaid labour, and then being held to ransom for every second of it with the threat of withheld deposits. 

“We urge any workers who are concerned about their deposits or any other issues with the festival to get in touch with us."

The Herald reported in January that trade unions warned it would be “morally indefensible” for Stirling Council to allow the event to go ahead as the festival owed artists, technicians and suppliers around £800,000.

READ MORE: Doune the Rabbit Hole accused of 'insult' over unpaid artists

In 2022 the festival announced they were entering liquidation due to "huge financial difficulty.” A statement from organisers confirmed at the time that the festival would return this July under Festival Beverage and Property Services Ltd.

According to Companies House, Doune The Rabbit Hole Ltd is run by Jamie Murray, while Festival Beverage and Property Services Ltd is run by his father, Craig Murray, a blogger and former diplomat.

Speaking at the end of last year, Craig Murray said this year’s festival was going ahead in 2023 to make enough money to pay off the debts.

However, the festival assured that the deposits were being held "a safe, neutral and unconnected bank account".

Doune The Rabbit Hole's volunteer manager Ruth McGill said: "Volunteers make an invaluable contribution to the running of Doune The Rabbit Hole.

"As part of our recruitment process, and like most other festivals, we ask volunteers who are new to our team to pay a deposit.

"The purpose of this is to deter the very small minority who may see festival volunteering as a way to get a free ticket without making a contribution.

"Most festivals ask for the same as a ticket price, for example, the charity Oxfam take £360 from volunteers applying to steward at Glastonbury. Our deposit is currently £95, making it less than half the ticket price.

"In spite of the financial challenges experienced in 2022, all bar one of our 168 volunteers received their deposit back within days of the event.

"The one exception was an individual who did not turn up for any of their assigned shifts.

"This year we have partnered with a company called Volunteer Heros which was set up by one of the team who manages our volunteers for the sole purpose of holding volunteer deposits in a safe, neutral and unconnected bank account, allowing them to be refunded with a single click once volunteers have completed their shifts."