In response to the BBC article at the weekend, which many of you may have read, I would like to make the full MU position clear to you all.
I am currently involved with a number of high level committees that are looking at how and when the various different sectors of the entertainment industry can resume activity. The overriding consideration in all of these discussions is the safety and wellbeing of the workforce.
We do not want musicians to go back to the workplace if by doing so they are risking their health or the health of others. This is why we are supporting the NEU's position on teachers not going back to work until it is safe, for example, and advising our members to keep teaching online wherever possible.
It is with our members' safety and wellbeing in mind, alongside our concern about the lack of income many are faced with, that we are engaging in detailed discussions about how and when work may commence in various areas of the industry.
Existing Government guidance on a safe return to work
The MU's position is that a relaxation of the two-metre rule in workplaces can only occur if and when the Government’s health advisors say it is safe. That said, the existing Government guidance on a safe return to work includes the following:
“3) Maintain two-metres social distancing, wherever possible
“Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain two-metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.
“4) Where people cannot be two-metres apart, manage transmission risk
“Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.”
For the full guidance, see the Government’s page on getting safely back to work.
Exploring measures to mitigate risk
Employers tell us that some workplaces frequented by our members may not be able to open at all with the two-metre rule in place. Therefore, as we do with other risks to our members' health such as noise, we are exploring other measures that could be put in place to mitigate risk.
To be clear, the two-metre rule is most problematic when you have a full orchestra performing together, for example, but it is an even bigger problem for audience capacity.
Our role is to take and deliver advice on health and safety to ensure that we and our members are satisfied that the most possible care has been taken to ensure guidance is complied with and any risks reduced.
Recording studios have been the first to resume some kind of activity, and the union has been in detailed talks with contractors and studio owners about how we can keep sessions safe.
Staggered arrivals, thorough deep-cleans between sessions and social distancing are the basic necessities to guard against the risk of COVID-19 and so far we have received positive feedback from members about how these are working.
Whether the two-metre rule should apply in all circumstances
The question that has been asked most regularly in meetings I've attended is should the two-metre rule apply in all circumstances? The World Health Organisation is sticking with its recommendation of one-metre.
The one-metre rule has been adopted in Italy, and other European countries are working to a metre and a half. Government guidelines say that sitting side by side or back to back lessens the risk of transmission, as does the use of masks, screens and PPE.
It follows then that a string section sitting side by side, wearing masks and using screens might be able to work safely at a distance less than two-metres from their colleagues, and this is what we want the governments health experts to consider.
If it was deemed safe to reduce the distancing for musicians sitting side by side, wearing masks and possibly using screens then it would enable more musicians to return to work which we all know they are desperate to do. We are also looking into potential arrangements for other groups of players.
Behind every musician
As we continue to say at every opportunity, the safety and well-being of our members is paramount and should not be compromised by the clamour to resume work. Nevertheless, we would be failing in our duty to our members if we didn’t question every aspect of the government's guidelines to ensure that they are sector specific and proportionate.
Detailed, expert advice will be issued to members before each area of the industry reopens. As always, we are behind every musician during this crisis.