BBC Scotland warned over unpaid runner roles“CHEERFUL, CAN-DO ATTITUDE” ESSENTIAL — BUT NO WAGE OFFERED


Has the BBC fluffed its renewed commitment to diversity already? BBC Scotland has been warned to stay within the law over multiple full-time, unpaid “voluntary runner” roles it advertised earlier this year, to work at a live event coinciding with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. The advert was placed shortly before the corporation announced a renewed commitment to improving diversity among its staff, and the placements are happening now.

Graduate Fog has learned that broadcasting union BECTU has held talks with the BBC Scotland over the roles and is monitoring the corporation after multiple young applicants were spotted being recruited in May to work at ‘BBC at the Quay’. Wannabe runners were told they would need to sign up to one of two daily shifts (“early morning to mid-afternoon or mid-afternoon to close of site”) and that their job would involve “a variety of daily tasks.” Despite being told they must “support to the Events team and BBC productions team backstage, assist the site’s visitors and perform general runner duties” for no wages, applicants were told they must display “a cheerful can-do attitude” at all times. Here is the advert in full:

How to volunteer at BBC at The Quay

BBC at the Quay – Runners (Voluntary)

BBC at the Quay is a live, pop-up festival coinciding with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and the accompanying city-wide cultural celebration Festival 2014. The site, in front of BBC Scotland’s HQ at Pacific Quay, will host a wide variety of live radio and television programmes and recordings as well as non-broadcast events originated both by the BBC and external organisations.

We aim to offer visitors of all ages a memorable, entertaining and high-quality experience in a safe environment. We will celebrate the cultural diversity of the Commonwealth using big BBC brands in a curated programme of events targeted both at audiences who already love the BBC and those who are harder for us to reach.

The site will be open for 16 days from Friday 19th July — Sunday 3rd August 2014. We are looking for Volunteers who would be available for the entire period to help us run the event smoothly. There will also be a Volunteers Briefing on Thursday 17th July which you will be required to attend. These are full time positions.

This is an excellent opportunity to gain hands-on experience in live event production during one of the most exciting sporting events ever to take place in Glasgow. As a volunteer you will also have the chance to learn from industry professionals from all areas of the BBC such as TV, Radio and Events.

There will be a variety of daily tasks to carry out as you work across the festival site to support the Events team and the BBC production teams backstage, assist the site’s visitors and perform general Runner duties. Volunteers’ tasks are varied and require a cheerful, can-do attitude.

The site is open from 09:00 until 01:00 daily. Volunteers would cover one of two daily shifts, either early morning to mid-afternoon or mid-afternoon to close of site however there may be some variations of this shift pattern to accommodate special broadcasts.

There will be a significant amount of interaction with the public in these roles, so it is important that candidates are confident, friendly and aware of their role as ambassadors for the BBC at all times.

We are looking for reliable candidates who can work well under pressure, are able to adapt to working with multiple teams, demonstrating clear communication skills and the flexibility to adapt to a wide range of situations. Previous experience of events or production environments would be beneficial, but not essential.

PLEASE NOTE: You will need to be based in the Glasgow area as we will be unable to provide accommodation. Travel expenses to and from the site will be supplemented. In addition, Volunteers must attend a briefing on Thursday 17th July at the BBC at the Quay site located outside the BBC Scotland’s headquarters at 40 Pacific Quay, Glasgow, G51 1DA. All volunteers must be over 18. Food & drink will be provided for all Volunteers.

If you’re interested in volunteering, or would like to find out more, please email:-

Applicants should include a CV, a short reference and a statement about why they want to be considered for this position.

Application deadline: 23:59pm Monday 05 May 2014

Were these really ‘volunteer’ roles? And were they really open to everyone? We asked BBC Scotland to explain:

From: Graduate Fog
Re: Unpaid runners at BBC at the Quay

My name is Tanya de Grunwald and I run the graduate careers blog Graduate Fog.

One of my readers has drawn my attention to an advert for voluntary runners to work at BBC at the Quay during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and the accompanying cultural Festival 2014 (pasted below).

The advert states that the positions are “full-time” and involve “daily tasks”. As such, can you explain how the BBC feels these positions fit with the UK’s National Minimum Wage law?

I would also like to ask how you feel that these are truly accessible to all young people, when they are full-time and unpaid?

With many thanks


The BBC replied:

From: BBC
To: Graduate Fog

Dear Tanya

Thankyou for your email about volunteers at BBC@the Quay.

These work experience placements are for the BBC@the Quay ‘live site’ and will be based at BBC Scotland’s headquarters in Glasgow. The site will showcase BBC brands, content and services and provide a destination site for members of the public. The site is part of the BBC’s commitment to the wider cultural programme that is running alongside the Commonwealth Games. The advertised roles will support the running of the site and will involve undertaking a variety of tasks which will allow those successful candidates to obtain valuable skills and work experience, during an extremely exciting time for the BBC and for Glasgow.

These roles have been defined in line with our work experience policy; individuals are placed within the BBC for a limited period of time, during which they have the opportunity to learn directly about working life and the working environment in the broadcasting industry. The BBC@the Quay work experience placements will offer valuable work experience to assist individuals in obtaining future employment in the sector.

The BBC Work Experience policy has strict guidelines in relation to working hours and shifts and successful candidates will work on a rota basis in line with these requirements.

BBC Scotland chose to open these opportunities to the general public in order to allow a diverse range of candidates to apply, and to provide opportunities to those individuals who missed out on the official Commonwealth Games organising committee volunteering placements.

This is not a new approach to work experience. BBC Scotland has undertaken similar work experience programmes to support running the Edinburgh Festival site. BBC at the Edinburgh Festivals is entering its fourth year, and each year BBC Scotland have offered similar work experience opportunities to allow local students and members of the public the opportunity to gain valuable experience at such a significant cultural event. Feedback from the volunteers in previous years has been extremely positive. The placements provided development and networking opportunities for individuals trying to establish themselves in the industry or looking to gain new skills and experience. Many of our volunteers from previous years have gone on to secure paid employment with the BBC, in our Runner or Production Management Assistant pools.

I would like to reassure you that those who are successful in securing one of the BBC @the quay work experience opportunities will be managed in line with the BBC work experience policy and will also benefit from CV clinics and career support in terms of advice on how to secure future employment with the BBC. These workshops will be an integrated part of their placements with BBC @the quay.

Sharon Mair is the Project Executive with responsibility for the design and delivery of the site and would be happy to discuss the programme with you in more detail by phone or in person if that would be helpful.

Kind regards

Hm. Not that reassuring, is it? We wrote back:

From: Graduate Fog

Thanks for this.

However, I remain unclear on how these positions fit with the minimum wage law, which states that anybody who does work that’s of value to their employer and would otherwise need to be done by a paid member of staff must be paid for their time. I am not interested in how they fit with the BBC’s work experience policy, only how they fit with UK employment law. The fact that ‘shifts’ are involves also suggests that these runners will have set hours, (ie will not be free to come and go as they please) which further cements a ‘worker’ relationship, by law. If somebody is a ‘worker’, their employer must pay them. They cannot waive their right to pay, even if they say they are willing to work for free as it’s such good experience.

I am also concerned that you continue to underline how these unpaid positions lead to paid jobs. Surely this only underlines the fact that paid positions are out of reach to those who cannot afford to work for free first?

Thanks again


The BBC wrote back:

To: Graduate Fog
From: BBC Scotland

Hi Tanya

Thank you for your reply.

The positions that we have advertised for work experience at the BBC@ The Quay site are support roles, which will be in addition to the several hundred team members working at the site across the duration of the festival. Large BBC productions will be taking place at the site, aided by their own teams of BBC employees. The festival itself is not therefore dependent on the roles of those undertaking the work experience placements. Of course, these positions will provide support to help the event run more smoothly but they are not event critical positions. Therefore they are not positions which would otherwise need to be filled by a paid member of staff.

The set hours of the placements are in line with our work experience policy which states that ‘Managers should ensure individuals know their expected daily start and finish times including breaks’. Breaks will also be on a rota and assigned based on the start and finish times. In managing the work experience placements by a rota system, it will allow for each individual to gain exposure to the variety of live productions and events that the site has to offer them in gaining valuable experience.

I do hope that clarifies the points you raised.

Kind regards

As we seemed to be going round in circles, we contacted our friends at BECTU. Happily, it turned out they were already on the case. A representative from BECTU in London told us:

“Our Scottish colleagues have had detailed discussions with BBC Scotland on this and are satisfied that these are work experience placements, and that they will be utilised in accordance with the BECTU-BBC agreements for such placements. Our local branch safety reps will also be monitoring their usage to ensure the agreements are fully adhered to.

“We agree that the wording of this advert may look bad, but my understanding is once the detailed arrangements were spelled out, our colleagues were reassured that in practice it’s above board. We’ve encountered this before: a badly-composed ad or listing makes a perfectly acceptable arrangement look dodgy.

“As the recognised union at the BBC, we have numerous formal agreements with them, including an agreement on work placements. There have been detailed discussions between BECTU reps and BBC management about this particular situation…

“We can’t publish the minutes of those discussions because they are the joint property of BECTU and the BBC — that’s how industrial relations works. But the BBC has given us formal assurances about this particular arrangement, and on that basis we believe that it is in line with our agreement.

“What’s more, to back that up, we will have the names of all the young people on these work placements, and our reps will have access to them to give support and advice, and if any of them is unhappy they will be able to lodge a formal complaint or grievance.”

Given BECTU’s excellent record on investigating unpaid work, Graduate Fog is confident that they will do an thorough job of monitoring these roles to ensure that those who have taken them feel fairly treated as true ‘volunteers’. However, we remain concerned that the BBC has yet again shown a lack of understanding about the underlying causes of their diversity problem. Undoubtedly, these runner roles will improve the CVs of those who do the roles. But surely young people from wealthier backgrounds are more likely to be in a position to take them? What about those who need to earn actual money this summer – won’t they be excluded?

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