WNO musicians vote ‘overwhelmingly’ for strike action

production shot of WNO's Gianni Schicchi by Puccini, summer 2024
18 Jul 2024

Welsh National Opera says it is committed to finding a solution for orchestra members that recognises the 'reality' of its financial situation following significant cuts to its public funding.

ICA refutes claims job losses linked to pro-Palestine action

ICA exterior
09 Jul 2024

The activist group Culture Workers Against Genocide has claimed that layoffs at ICA were motivated by previous Palestinian solidarity action undertaken without management's consent.

WNO members to vote on strike action over orchestra cuts

Memeber of WNO protest in Cardiff
26 Jun 2024

The Musicians' Union has called upon management, Arts Council Wales and Arts Council England to agree on a sustainable funding package to secure Welsh National Opera's future.

LIPA staff plan strike over health and safety issues

25 Jun 2024

The National Education Union says more than 90% of its members at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts sixth form college, high school and primary school are in favour of strike action.

Fee rises for playwrights at Royal Court, RSC and National

12 Jun 2024

Playwrights working under the Writers' Guild of Great Britain's (WGGB) minimum terms agreement will see a 4% increase in their fees, the union has announced.

WGGB said the the new rates are backdated to 1 April 2024 and will see the total script fee rise to £14,615 (except for the Royal Court Upstairs, which rises to £11,439). The deal follows a 6% increase agreed last year for the period from April 2023.

Lesley Gannon, WGGB Deputy General Secretary, said: “These are difficult times for playwrights, many of whom, we know, are questioning how long they can afford to remain in the industry. 

"We know the theatre sector has been facing unprecedented challenges, but it is vital that the rights and incomes of playwrights – who are so central to its success – are protected.

"We are therefore delighted to announce this rise on minimum fees for playwrights working under [the agreement].”

One in five creative workers experience serious sexual assault

30 May 2024

Creative employees say freelance precarity and power dynamics foster a toxic environment where one in five people experience serious sexual assault in the workplace, according to new data from Bectu.

The media and entertainment union surveyed 225 workers from across the UK’s creative industries in May 2024, revealing that 92% of the workforce has witnessed or experienced bullying or harassment related to their sex or gender in the workplace. 

For the majority, the perpetrator was a colleague and most likely someone senior (55%) or the person’s manager or head of department (26%). More than 60% chose not to report an incident because they were worried it would negatively impact their career.

Almost 85% of respondents said it was harder to report incidents of sexual harassment as a freelancer due to a lack of job security alongside an absence of employee support structures.

The prevalence of temporary contracts across the sector meant that more than half of freelancers said they did not report incidents because they were worried that they might lose work as a result. Over two-thirds worried it would negatively impact their career, compared with under a third of those on full-time contracts.

The overwhelming majority of respondents felt that behaviours that would be considered toxic and inappropriate in public life are often tolerated in the creative sector.

In response to the findings, Bectu is launching a new helpline for members who experience sexual harassment at work after a trial in its freelance areas.

“It’s no secret that sexual harassment remains a scourge on the creative industries. While we hear lots of warm words and well-meaning policies and procedures abound, it is clear that a radical step-change is needed for the sector to meaningfully tackle this issue," said Head of Bectu Philippa Childs.

“In a sector where power imbalances are particularly extreme, it’s critical that victims can have confidence that their allegations will be taken seriously, investigated and dealt with swiftly, and perpetrators held to account.”

Equity votes to support WNO chorus 

20 May 2024

Members of performers' union Equity have voted unanimously to pass an emergency motion supporting the Welsh National Opera (WNO) chorus in a dispute over contract changes and compulsory redundancies. 

The vote was taken at Equity’s Annual conference on Sunday, lending weight to the union's previous statements resisting changes to reduce the ensemble's current full-time contracts, which would lead to a 15% annual salary cut.

Equity says that WNO’s plans to reduce and rebalance the chorus's size “can only lead to the real threat of compulsory redundancy” and hopes the vote would "send a message of solidarity" to the chorus members affected.

The conference asked Equity's Council to "provide whatever support is required" to amplify the chorus's campaign and not to accept compulsory redundancies or "WNO management's desire to have the flexibility of a full-time contract with all the precarity of an unsustainable cut to their basic earnings."

WNO has warned it is facing financial difficulties after Arts Council England (ACE) cut its core funding from £6.24m to £4m a year for the 2023-26 period, a 35% reduction. It also receives £4.1m a year from Arts Council Wales.

Last June, an open letter from former opera members warned that a strategic review would reduce the number of full-time orchestra and chorus members to meet funding conditions imposed by ACE.

Call for urgent review of arts funding

Ayvianna at a union demonstration
19 Apr 2024

The future of the arts scene is 'terrifying', according to Ayvianna Snow, Chair of Equity's London North branch. Here, she makes the case for the UK to increase arts spending to 1% of government expenditure. 

Liverpool set for fresh museum strikes

15 Apr 2024

Museum workers in Liverpool will take part in 30 days of strikes over the summer as part of an ongoing dispute over pay.

The BBC reports that walkouts by members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union will affect National Museums Liverpool (NML) sites from next month.

A total of 56 days of action have already taken place in a dispute over a cost-of-living payment.

The PCS union says NML is the only government employer not to pay its staff an agreed-upon £1,500 cost-of-living payment. 

However, Laura Pye, Director of NML, recently claimed that 10 out of 15 National Museums services could not fulfil the payment.

An offer by NML for a £750 one-off non-consolidated payment, an increase in annual leave to 30 days plus Bank Holidays alongside other measures, was previously rejected.

The Museum of Liverpool, the World Museum, the International Slavery Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Walker Gallery, and Sudley House are among the sites affected.

PCS General Secretary Fran Heathcote said members love their jobs but "are angry and feel undervalued".
 

Liverpool museums remain shut as union rejects pay offer

03 Apr 2024

Museums across Liverpool are expected to stay closed after the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) rejected a pay offer from National Museums Liverpool (NML).

In a post, Laura Pye, Director of National Museums Liverpool, said that "with a heavy heart", NML's five venues will remain mostly closed until at least 14 April, when the current strike period is due to end.

More than 200 NML staff began a two-month strike on 17 February in a dispute over a cost-of-living payment after 94% of employees balloted by PCS backed a walkout.

The union says NML is the only government employer not to pay its staff an agreed-upon £1,500 cost-of-living payment. The government introduced the retrospective payment for civil servants as part of a pay deal for 2022-2023 following a campaign by PCS to help its members cope with soaring inflation.

However, in her post, Pye said, “NML has never promised this payment. In fact, we were very clear when the government announced that unless an additional grant in aid payment was given to us to cover this, we would be unable to pay it.

“National government has also been very clear that the payment was promised to civil servants, and because NML colleagues are not civil servants, they were not in scope.”

She also claimed that of the 15 National Museums services, NML is one of 10 that has not been able to pay the £1,500 in addition to the additional pay awards agreed upon.

The latest offer made to PCS Union members on 20 March included a £750 one-off non-consolidated payment, an increase in annual leave to 30 days plus Bank Holidays, a commitment to shut down the venues every Christmas Eve, and the provision of complimentary tea, coffee, and milk in staff rooms.

Welsh Government pushes ahead with arts cuts

28 Feb 2024

The Welsh Government has finalised its budget for 2024/25, confirming a 10.5% cut for Arts Council of Wales and the National Library.

Museum workers from the National Museum of Wales, the National Library of Wales, and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales protested outside the Senedd on Tuesday (27 February) as the budget was published.

Proposals to cut financing for National Museums of Wales by £3m and reduce support for local culture and sport by £1.9m have been maintained in the final budget.

The draft budget explained that because of “protections” afforded to employability and skills, the government had to “take the difficult decision” to reprioritise £16m of funding away from culture, sport and tourism, as well as £2m from Cadw, which works to protect historic buildings, landscapes and heritage sites in Wales.

Cadw and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales will benefit from an amendment to the final budget, with an additional £1.16m going to the former and £243,000 going to the latter.

Plaid Cymru Senedd Member Sioned Williams joined the protest along with her colleagues, writing on X: "The cuts to Wales’ museums and National Library will affect so many people – jobs will be put at risk, and the protection of our historical and cultural legacy will be threatened. I, and my [Plaid Cymru] colleagues stand with unions protesting these cuts."

Musicians accept ENO agreement with 'heavy hearts’ 

MU members protesting outside the Coliseum
15 Feb 2024

The orchestra at English National Opera has agreed in principle to a deal including seven months' guaranteed work and a minimum redundancy payment.

Future of BBC Singers secured

15 Feb 2024

A project looking at the future of the BBC’s performing groups has concluded with the announcement that a sustainable future has been secured. 

The BBC Singers will remain integral to the BBC’s classical music provision, working in partnership with The VOCES8 Foundation. 

BBC Singers staff will continue to be employed by the BBC and remain core to Radio 3 and the Proms. 

The announcement comes after the BBC revealed plans to close its in-house choir, BBC Singers, last March. That decision was overturned after a public outcry and an online petition with more than 145,000 signatures.

The BBC said: "The VOCES8 Foundation has considerable experience and expertise across music education and community engagement.

"This partnership builds on the valuable education and community work the BBC Singers already deliver across East London, as well as the commercial work already undertaken, and we will continue to identify new opportunities for additional revenue for the ensemble."

Regarding its orchestras, the BBC said it is working closely with the Musicians’ Union to consider new opportunities as work develops across broadcast, education and commercial activity.

"This will be a gradual process in which we will work closely with the Unions and our musicians, alongside a review to modernise terms and conditions making sure these are aligned with the BBC’s principles of fairness and transparency," it added.

The BBC will also pursue an Orchestral Tax Relief application, which will be central in ensuring the sustainability of the six groups amid ongoing financial challenges.

The Musicians’ Union and the BBC jointly said: “[We] have engaged in constructive talks over recent months. We are pleased that we have a strategy which secures the future of the BBC Singers, and we look forward to celebrating their centenary year." 

Paul Smith (CEO) and Barnaby Smith (Artistic Director) of The VOCES8 Foundation said: “As a global, artist-led charity dedicated to inspiring people through choral music, The VOCES8 Foundation was committed to a positive outcome for the future of the BBC Singers. The Foundation looks forward to working together with the BBC Singers to demonstrate how choral music can positively impact communities in the UK and worldwide in the 21st century.” 

Equity protests Nottingham council's proposed budget cuts

Equity protestors outside Nottingham Playhouse
15 Feb 2024

Nottingham County Council is proposing to cut its entire £198k cultural budget, as part of sweeping money saving measures - proposals which have been rejected by Labour councillors.

Arts Council Wales consults on voluntary redundancies

Arts Council of Wales at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales.
15 Feb 2024

Chief Executive of Arts Council of Wales, Dafydd Rhys, says the organisation has been forced to make "extremely difficult decisions” following a 10.5% budget cut from the Welsh government.

Speakers cancel RSA events after union calls for boycott

13 Feb 2024

Internationally renowned speakers have withdrawn from engagements at the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) after members of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) called for a boycott of the institution in a dispute over pay and concerns about leadership.

Staff at the RSA, who went on strike in December, are calling on fellows, guest speakers, academics and the public not to attend or speak at events organised by or at the RSA. They are also asking members to withhold nominations for new fellows and for academics to abstain from participating in research projects with the RSA.

Economist Yanis Varoufakis cancelled an event at RSA on 15 February in response to the campaign. He wrote on X: “It's our hope that this boycott will help the [RSA union] to ensure that the RSA, with its historically progressive aims, offers fair pay and conditions for all staff.”

Wildlife TV presenter and conservationist Chris Packham and comedian and writer Deborah Frances-White also withdrew from engagements at the RSA.

Employees have been in talks with RSA management for six months about a pay claim submitted in January 2023. Staff want a flat £2,800 salary increase for all employees, an increase from 5.5% to 8% for pension contributions and a £400 allowance for staff who don’t benefit from hybrid working.

The union has also accused the organisation of "curtailing free speech and debate through censorship and anti-democratic decisions" and is calling for an independent review of "the suitability of the leadership of the RSA". 

An RSA spokesperson said they were disappointed by the boycott and added that the body has worked with the IWGB to find “constructive resolutions,” offering a £1,000 salary increase, which the union has rejected.

In October 2023, an employment tribunal found the RSA had unfairly dismissed an employee who spoke to the press about the organisation's refusal to recognise the staff trade union. The IWGB said the victory "has only strengthened our members’ resolve to win the ongoing pay dispute and has given them confidence and energy to transform the RSA into an organisation that respects and values their work.”

Northern Ballet confirms switch to recorded music

Northern Ballet's headquarters in Leeds
12 Feb 2024

The Musicians' Union 'rejects' Northern Ballet's decision to proceed with cutting the Sinfonia for some touring performances in 2024, labelling the move 'unacceptable'. 

Orchestra musicians walk out over unpaid fees

12 Feb 2024

Musicians from London Chamber Orchestra (LCO) walked out of a rehearsal on 7 February ahead of a performance in protest over unpaid wages.

Around half the players, who are all freelance, took action after voicing objections to five months of overdue payments, according to a report in The Observer. A subsequent performance by LCO at Cadogan Hall went ahead after other musicians were brought in to cover.

Jocelyn Lightfoot, the ensemble's Managing Director, said the issue arose after Barclays Bank froze LCO's account “with no prior warning". The action was part of Barclays' anti-crime measures.

Lightfoot said: “We kept the musicians informed during this period that their payment would go out as soon as the account was reopened, but as the timeline of the reopening was further delayed many times, it was difficult to provide musicians with a clear timeframe.

"We understand the monumental strain on this body of freelancers whose opportunities to work have been reduced and jeopardised due to sweeping cuts to orchestral funding.”

She confirmed that the payments have since been made.

A Barclays Bank spokesperson said: “We take the protection of our customers’ funds and data extremely seriously.

“As part of our ongoing responsibility to help prevent financial crime and to meet our regulatory responsibilities, we are required to ensure we hold up-to-date information regarding our customers’ accounts. Customers are also required to inform the bank in a timely manner of any change to their legal status relating to their business, charity or trust.”

Barclay’s anti-crime measures are understood to have affected other organisations, including the classical music venue, St John’s Smith Square, Surrey-based Clockwork Charitable Trust and the Ogmore Valley Male Voice Choir.

Theatre cancels pro-Israel fundraiser amid claims of threats to staff

08 Feb 2024

A West End theatre has cancelled a speaking event to be hosted by journalist Douglas Murray called 'Standing with Israel' following claims that staff refused to work after receiving outside pressure. 

The event was due to be held at the Apollo Theatre on 4 February to raise scholarship and support funds for student members of the Israel Defense Forces' military reserve force.

Less than five hours before the event was due to start, the Apollo's owners, Nimax Theatres, posted on X/Twitter that the theatre was closed "with no events".

Nimax Theatres told Jewish News: “The event on Sunday, 4 February, was cancelled on the advice of Nimax’s security company, which advised that the risk was too high to proceed. The safety of the staff, attendees and building is always paramount.”

Alan Aziz, Chief Executive of the Israel Institute of Technology Technion, the event's organiser, claimed the theatre had "struggled" to find enough crew members to work that evening.

He alleged those staff members who had opted to work the extra shift were sent "threatening emails and told the management that they no longer wanted to work” after their contact information was distributed to someone outside the theatre. 

He said: “The Apollo were very understanding and apologised. They did everything possible to try to make it work.” 

The event went ahead at another undisclosed venue, with Murray posting on X: “Wonderful event to a capacity audience in London. Shame on the Apollo Theatre for bowing to the mob. But London’s Jews will not be intimidated, and neither will I.”

Beforehand, he said: "We have arrived at a point where theatres in London no longer feel safe to support free speech - or at least not when the subject is Jews or Israel."

The activist group Culture Workers Against Genocide was due to hold a protest outside the theatre during the event. They wrote on Instagram: "Tonight’s protest outside the Apollo Theatre is called off following a successful pressure campaign by a coalition of independent artists, workers and members of Culture Workers Against Genocide.

"We applaud @nimaxtheatres quick and decisive action to cancel the event."

Improved redundancy offer for backstage ENO workers

The London Coliseum, the current home of English National Opera
06 Feb 2024

Backstage workers at English National Opera receive revised redundancy offer, which trade union Bectu is encouraging them to accept.

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