Equity has announced plans to ballot its members in the English National Opera (ENO) chorus on industrial action in the new year after objecting to plans put forward by management to reduce the number of singers and cut the salaries of remaining members.
The union says that the changes result from plans to limit ENO's opera season in London as it establishes a new part-time base in Manchester ahead of 2029, a funding condition imposed by Arts Council England (ACE). Equity says the proposals would see the salaries of the chorus drop by 40%, with contracts covering six months of the year.
Since ENO's relocation to the North West was confirmed earlier this month, Equity claims “management has been unable to confirm what their plans for activity in the new base will be and have refused to guarantee any involvement in Manchester for their existing artistic workforce,” adding that negotiations “have now stalled”.
Ronald Nairne, ENO Chorus member and workplace representative for Equity, said: “There is currently no suggestion that we, the chorus, the orchestra, or the technical teams will be involved in anything at all in Manchester.”
The union's demands include that existing chorus members be given first refusal of any work in Manchester and a regular weekday off each week to plan for other work. They are requesting a seven-month permanent contract, with a paid holiday to be taken additionally.
The ballot will open on Thursday, 4 January, and includes the potential for strike action.
Previously, ENO has said that the cuts are necessary as it “reevaluates [its] employment levels” following a reduction in funding from ACE. The company also intends to reduce the size of its orchestra and introduce part-time contracts for the remaining musicians.
Backstage staff at ENO, including Stage management, whom Equity also represents, will similarly be affected by cuts to working hours and income.
Hilary Hadley, Equity Assistant General Secretary for Live Performance, said the current proposals were “disastrous”, adding that members had given “clear direction to ballot on industrial action”.
She said: “The ENO’s proposals short-change audiences and opera in London and Manchester. Manchester will suffer from stripped-back productions without the ENO chorus – serving Manchester audiences only half the ENO experience. At the same time, drastically reducing the ENO’s opera season in London will be hugely detrimental to providing affordable and accessible opera in the city.”