English National Opera chorus and orchestra members to strike in contracts row

Chorus and orchestra members at the English National Opera (ENO) are to strike in a dispute over contracts.

Members of the Musicians’ Union (MU) and Equity will walk out on February 1, coinciding with the opening night of a production of The Handmaid’s Tale, which the unions said will not go ahead because of the industrial action.

Members of both unions have voted in favour of strikes after they accused the ENO management of planning to make chorus, orchestra and music staff redundant and re-employ them for only six months a year.

The unions said that for some musicians in the orchestra, the proposal is to reduce their contracts even further with some being offered ad-hoc freelance work only.

The cuts result from plans to reduce the ENO’s opera season in London following a reduction in Arts Council England funding, said the unions.

Paul Fleming, Equity general secretary, said: “The heart of this dispute is about who opera in this country is for: should there be stable, accessible jobs for people from every background, or precarious jobs limited to the few?

“The ENO chorus and creative workforce believe opera is for everyone, that opera is nothing without a stable dignified workforce and jobs which are open to all.

“They are proposing fire and rehire, 40% cuts in wages, and no permanent jobs in a new Manchester base. After months of seeking a negotiated solution, our members have returned a strong vote in favour of taking strike action.”

Naomi Pohl, MU general secretary, said: “This is a historic moment for the Musicians’ Union and the UK’s orchestra sector – the first time we’ve been on strike since 1980.

“This is a sign of extremely difficult times for the orchestral sector and opera and ballet in particular.

“This has been caused by underfunding of the proposed move to Manchester.

“The management have decided to cut our members down to six months of work per year and this risks a wonderful, talented and specialist orchestra dissipating.

“It is heartbreaking to see the impact on the individuals affected.”