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Technicians at English National Opera are facing the prospect of significant reductions in their working hours and salaries as part of ongoing cost-cutting measures.

Clive Mantle in ENO’s Iolanthe 2023
Bectu said that "devastating" proposals come at an already anxious time for ENO technicians in the wake of unconfirmed relocation plans

Clive Mantle, ENO’s Iolanthe 2023 © Craig Fuller

English National Opera is proposing “devastating” cuts to working hours and salaries for its backstage technical staff, it has emerged.

According to union Bectu, the changes include reducing the length of some contracts, reductions in hours and significant salary cuts for those working in departments, including lighting and props, as well as decreasing the size of the number of technical teams. 

Bectu claims that the plan would see 12 permanent full-time positions reduced to 20-week contracts, split over two seasons, while a number of people on fixed-term contracts would experience a cut in hours and pay.


Philippa Childs, Head of Bectu, which represents theatre technicians, called the reduction in working hours and wages proposed by ENO “drastic.” She said the proposals would be “devastating news for our members” already facing “an incredibly challenging and anxious time in the wake of brutal funding cuts, unconfirmed relocation plans and continued uncertainty”. 

The cuts are the latest cost-saving measure affecting staff at the organisation after details of the plans to downsize its orchestra, with the loss of 19 full-time orchestral positions and the remaining musicians being employed on part-time contracts.

ENO also wants to reduce the number of singers in its chorus and slash the contract length of its remaining members from 10 to six months.

Both the Musicians' Union and Equity have opposed ENO's proposals, which also prompted the resignation of ENO's Music Director, Martyn Brabbins, last week in protest.

Brabbins said the changes would “drive a coach and horses through the artistic integrity of the whole of ENO as a performing company".

ENO has said that the cuts are necessary following a reduction in funding from Arts Council England (ACE).

The company, which has until 2029 to move its headquarters out of London under ACE plans, said that after nine months of negotiations with the funding body, it was “no longer facing mass permanent redundancies” but was reevaluating employment levels “across every part of the organisation”. 

In a statement, ENO said: “As we start this difficult process with staff, we believe we have presented viable options that aim to ensure a sustainable future for the ENO whilst supporting our artistic and musical heart as much as possible."

Talent Flight

Childs noted that Bectu, which has started negotiations with ENO management regarding the cuts, campaigned “relentlessly” alongside other unions last year for ACE to reinstate the company's National Portfolio funding.

She said: “It’s unacceptable that our members are now once again fighting for their jobs and their ability to make a living doing what they love.  

“These drastic proposals threaten both our members’ livelihoods and the ENO’s artistic output, from which we will all suffer. Bectu is concerned about the very real risk of a talent flight following these proposals – we cannot expect people to accept such significant cuts in hours and income, and face such career uncertainty, simply for ‘the love of the job’. 

Childs called for "a proper, sustained strategy" from ACE to protect both the company’s ability to provide affordable, accessible opera and its skilled workforce.   

She said Bectu wanted to see "commitment" from ACE to working with unions and the ENO on a "thorough and realistic" plan for the company, that "protects the livelihood of its staff and freelancers". 

Childs added: “The government, too, must step up. It has long been vocal about its desire to see the UK continue to be a leading cultural centre, yet has overseen a programme of cultural vandalism of some of our country’s most revered creative and cultural institutions. It must therefore commit to safeguarding nationally significant institutions and the highly skilled jobs associated with them.”