Feb 15, 2024 2 min read

Musicians' Union reluctantly reaches deal with English National Opera over orchestra cutbacks

An agreement has been reached between the English National Opera and the Musicians’ Union over cutbacks to its orchestra - the MU says that although it has secured an improved deal, the changes remain significant and its members accepted the new agreement with “heavy hearts”

Musicians' Union reluctantly reaches deal with English National Opera over orchestra cutbacks

The UK's Musicians' Union has reached an agreement with the English National Opera in relation to its orchestra members. While this means that plans for strike action this month have been called off, the new deal has been “accepted with heavy hearts”.

The union's General Secretary Naomi Pohl says “we are pleased to have reached an agreement with ENO for the orchestra", but adds that it's a "deal that our members have accepted with heavy hearts. It was clear that the current Arts Council England funding package [for ENO] and instruction to move out of London by 2029 did not provide for full-time jobs for ENO's performers at the present time". 

“This is a tragedy and we are worried about how our members will make ends meet over the next couple of transition years for the company", she adds. "Our deal has focused on the best package achievable to try to keep the orchestra together". 

ENO management announced plans last year to make its orchestra, music staff and chorus members redundant, moves prompted by changes to its funding. Most of those people would then be reemployed, but only for six months of the year, while some orchestra members have been offered only ad hoc freelance work. 

In December, MU members voted to strike over the plans, with chorus members - represented by the union Equity - also backing strike action last month. That action was due to begin at the start of this month, but was delayed while union talks continued. 

Under the deal that has now been agreed, all current orchestra members will be offered seven months of guaranteed work. 

"The musicians want to make it clear that they have voted for the package because they want to see the company and orchestra continue to make as much opera as possible”, says a statement from the MU. “Our members - who will be made redundant and then rehired as part of the process - are also clear that they should be on full time contracts and ENO should be performing opera with its artistic forces year-round". 

Regarding the other ENO employees affected by the changes, the union adds, "MU members in the music staff have agreed to an offer in principle and are in the process of confirming details with ENO management. We send our solidarity to Equity as they work through the final details of their offer in the coming days". 

The MU has also made some demands of the UK government to help its members impacted by the changes at the ENO, and more generally. 

That includes to "provide specific funding for touring to cover increasing cost; make the orchestral and theatre tax relief extensions permanent; write off or delay repayment of COVID recovery loans; and reverse [former Culture Secretary] Nadine Dorries’ instruction to Arts Council England that led to English National Opera being asked to relocate".

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