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MU Appalled to Hear About English Touring Opera’s Recent Action

The Union is appalled to hear that a number of members have been sent a letter by English Touring Opera (ETO) stating that they will not be booked for the 2022 tour. This equates to almost half the orchestra losing their roles.

Published: 10 September 2021 | 6:14 PM Updated: 01 October 2021 | 2:49 PM
Photograph of an empty orchestral seating area, with some instruments left behind.
Sacking half the workforce under the guise of ‘improving diversity’ is insincere and bad practice. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Many of the members who have been told they will not be booked for 2022 have been performing with ETO for 20 years or more, and even those who have been with ETO for fewer years have been loyal to the company season after season.

ETO have stated that they are prioritising: “increased diversity in the orchestra. This is in line with the firm guidance of the Arts Council, principal funder of ETO’s touring work, and of most of the trust funds that support ETO.” And that they are tasked with “shaping the modern orchestra”.

While the MU lauds efforts to increase diversity in the workplace, this should be achieved fairly and legitimately, not by “sacking” half an orchestra.

We have spoken with Arts Council England at length about diversity and inclusion and ways in which this can be appropriately promoted within the orchestral sector. The unexpected and brutal decision taken by ETO risks undermining any positive efforts Arts Council England (ACE) might make in this regard. The MU will be writing to ACE to officially raise a concern about ETO in this regard.

There has been an understandable outcry from MU members in response to this news today. It comes at an especially devastating time for our freelance community and musicians in general, with so many struggling with little work and income during the Covid-19 crisis.

Devastating news that raises questions

The ETO orchestra have earned praise in the press year after year with some of the players (including those who have not been booked) being mentioned personally for the high standard of their playing. Despite being a freelance orchestra with no security of work, the orchestra have been loyal to the company and to each other as a collective. The members who have received offers of work have expressed how devastated they are for their colleagues.

MU National Organiser Orchestras, Jo Laverty said:

“ETO have always resisted the MU’s negotiations around instating a “first call” core players list into our Collective Agreement with ETO, a key protection a freelance player can have against losing their regular work in this way.

“ETO had mooted in pre-pandemic times their desire to “refresh” the orchestra but never in terms of diversity. Neither have there been efforts to address diversity in gradual and inclusive stages as has been the case in other UK orchestras. ETO’s current auditions call-out has no mention of an equality, diversity and inclusion statement or any suggestion of the organisation’s commitment to addressing barriers for underrepresented groups. It raises questions to me.

“We are talking to the members affected and taking legal advice. I have also relayed to them what an overwhelming wave of support has come in from other members outside of ETO and the concerns of the MU’s Executive Committee and General Secretary. The MU is doing all it can to deal with the situation and dig into the decisions made by ETO”.

This decision will set back diversity and inclusion agendas

The MU strongly believes this decision is absolutely not about diversity and will set back diversity and inclusion agendas throughout the orchestral sector. Sacking half of the players works against creating an inclusive environment for more diverse musicians.

If ETO are really serious about recruiting a more diverse workforce, then their focus should be on creating an orchestra where musicians are valued, respected and encouraged to fully participate. Sacking half the workforce under the guise of ‘improving diversity’ is insincere and bad practice.

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