Chorus members at English National Opera have followed their union’s recommendation and voted unanimously to strike over proposals – still unfinalised – to cut their contract months and their numbers.
They are presently gathering to picket the Arts Council, the real instigator of the cuts.
ENO have issued the following response:
‘We are extremely disappointed that Equity have balloted members of the ENO chorus, and they have decided to proceed with industrial action – including a strike – before undertaking serious negotiations. Given the assurance that no action would be taken which would damage the company, we are saddened that the action that they have chosen seems specifically designed to cause the utmost harm to both the company and our audience.
‘Their choice to disrupt performances of Akhnaten will only undermine the pride the whole company has in its amazing work and let down every audience member who has paid to see this show.
‘We are confident that we can reach an agreement with Equity and that we can work together to find a solution which both enables us to face the reality of a £5m cut in core funding whilst protecting the artistic integrity of our work.
‘To be clear, we are not asking the chorus to work the same number of months for 75% of pay, as has been suggested by Equity. We are asking the chorus to move to a nine month contract, reflecting the work they will undertake in future seasons for the company. We are reducing their contracted time with the company by 25%, and have put forward a 17.5% reduction in pay (equivalent to 10 months pay – nine months plus four weeks paid holiday to be taken outside of their contracted ‘core’ season).
‘We have made concessions to the original proposal which would see this new contract not take effect until 1 August 2017, thereby giving 18 months notice. We have proposed four redundancies in the chorus, reducing the chorus from 44 members to 40. This would take effect from 1 August 2016.
‘We have made it clear to the chorus that we would prefer to protect jobs and maintain a permanent ensemble, and therefore offer contracts that reflect the amount of work that individual chorus members undertake, rather than imposing further redundancies on the chorus, thus compromising the artistic quality for which they are world renowned. By taking this action, we are able to limit the number of redundancies to four.
‘However, in order to face the financial reality of the situation we are in, and to offer the greatest value for public money, we are not prepared to pay chorus members for times of the year that they are not working.
‘We are also offering to give first refusal to chorus members on any work that is scheduled outside their contracts at a 100% freelance fee and are prepared to negotiate a notice period for finding this work that suits the needs of individual chorus members. Plans to find work for the chorus during the summer months are already at an advanced stage, which will further soften the financial impact of these cost savings to individual chorus members.
‘We cannot place the future of ENO, one of the UK’s greatest cultural assets, at risk of closure. Any strike action undertaken would significantly undermine the work of all members of the ENO family. We are committed to finding a solution with Equity and chorus representatives that both protects our permanent artistic forces yet meets the cost savings required given the 30% cut to our core ACE grant.’