Breaking: sacked Welsh player wins on appeal

Breaking: sacked Welsh player wins on appeal


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2011

The oboist Murray ‘Sandy’ Johnston who took his dismissal by Welsh National Opera to court has succeeded in overturning the original verdict.

His case will be heard again by a different panel.

Johnston claimed he was unjustly treated by the former WNO music director Carlo Rizzi. He now has all to play for.




Sandy Johnston, the former Principal Oboist of the Welsh National Opera has succeeded in his appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Murray “Sandy” Johnston successfully appealed against the decision of the Employment Tribunal in Cardiff that he was fairly dismissed by the Welsh National Opera.


Mr Johnston had been employed by the Welsh National Opera for more than 30 years, but was dismissed by WNO management allegedly on the basis that they had concerns about his artistic performance. Central to the appeal by Mr Johnston was a collective agreement between the WNO and the Musicians’ Union which set out very clearly the procedure to be followed in cases of “poor artistic performance”.


Mr Johnston was required to re-audition for his job in accordance with the poor artistic performance procedure and unanimously passed that audition. Nevertheless, the WNO management then decided that the collectively agreed procedure applied only to solo playing and not “ensemble” playing, despite the fact that the distinction does not exist in the agreement. Mr Johnston’s offer to audition on an ensemble basis (despite there being no legal or contractual obligation to do so) was rejected by WNO management.


The solicitor acting for Mr Johnston, Chris Mayers of MLM Cartwright, had suggested that the WNO could allow Mr Johnston to re-audition, but within a specific ensemble. Alternatively, suggested Mr Mayers, the incoming Musical Director, Lothar Koenigs could audition Mr Johnston and he could then comment on Mr Johnston’s performance.


Neither of those options was accepted by the WNO.


Managers of the WNO then convened a Disciplinary Hearing against Mr Johnston at which they indicated it was not their policy to call “live” witnesses. Mr Johnston, therefore, was required to attend a Disciplinary Hearing at which no live witnesses were produced and he therefore did not fully understand the allegations against him, nor was he given the opportunity to question the evidence against him.


At the hearing in London last Friday, the decision of the Employment Tribunal in Cardiff has been overturned. The Judge at the Employment Appeal Tribunal criticised the decision of the Cardiff Employment Tribunal and in particular criticised the failure to follow the collective agreement.


The case has now been remitted by the Employment Appeal Tribunal to be re-heard by a differently constituted panel in Cardiff.