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MU Ballots Welsh National Opera Members for a Mandate for Industrial Action

The MU is balloting its members in the Welsh National Opera (WNO) orchestra for a mandate for industrial action.

Published: 25 June 2024 | 4:33 PM
People holding 'protect WNO' posters outside of The Wales Millennium Centre.
Orchestra players attended a demo and leafleting session outside of The Wales Millennium Centre in June. Image credit: Alistair Heap/PA Media Assignments.

Members of the WNO orchestra are being balloted for industrial action in a dispute over plans to make the orchestra part-time and to cut musicians’ pay by 15%.

The MU delivered the notification of intent to ballot to WNO management last week. The ballot period will commence on Wednesday 26 June and will run for three weeks.

It follows Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council England funding cuts, which has forced WNO management to consider making the orchestra part time and cutting musicians’ pay by 15%.

WNO will also have to cut down on touring as a result of the funding shortfall for the company, which risks leaving towns and cities like Llandudno and Bristol without the high-quality opera provision they deserve.

Close to 11,000 people signed WNO orchestra’s petition

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl and representatives from TUC Cymru/Wales TUC joined orchestra players for a demo and leafleting session ahead of a performance of Puccini's Il trittico on Thursday 20 June.

Over 10,500 people have already signed the Welsh National Opera orchestra’s petition to protect their jobs.

The MU is calling on management, Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council England to:

  • Keep WNO as a full-time company
  • Stop the proposed 15% pay cut
  • Agree a sustainable funding package to secure WNO's future, including touring.

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “This is a critical time for Welsh National Opera as it faces funding cuts from Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Wales.

“We are also deeply concerned about diminishing opera provision across the UK. This will hit hardest in areas that already have less arts and music provision, and hugely reduce opportunities for musicians to earn a living.

“We are determined to support our members in challenging plans for unsustainable pay cuts for our members and changes that could cause major damage to arts and music in Wales.

“Meanwhile we will be taking the issue up with the Government, supportive MPs and the Arts Councils. With a general election on the horizon, it is a pivotal moment in time to make our case for the cultural investment so desperately needed for our arts institutions.”

Supporting professional orchestras in Wales

MU Acting Regional Organiser for Wales and South West England Ruth Ballantyne said: “These proposed cuts would be hugely damaging for our members and professional music in Wales and South West England. The proposed removal of stable and secure jobs, and the inevitable reduction in the amount of work for freelance musicians is unacceptable.

“The WNO Orchestra is one of only two full time professional orchestras in Wales. Reducing that provision would have a negative effect on the WNO’s artistic standards, Cardiff’s status as a hub for professional music, and cultural provision across Wales and large parts of England.

“Music and the arts are already facing major challenges across Wales, and damaging the artistic foundation of Wales’ largest arts organisation would be another major blow to musicians and audiences. Wales has strong and deeply felt musical heritage, and I’m sure that everyone will be concerned about one of our national companies being potentially downgraded in this way.”

Protecting jobs for musicians now and in the future

MU National Organiser for Orchestras Jo Laverty said: “If the orchestra is forced to go part-time this will be hugely damaging to WNO’s orchestra members and their loyal pool of freelancers, and will have a wider knock-on effect on the industry.

“If proposed cuts go ahead, there will only be two full-time employed opera orchestras (Opera North and the Orchestra of the Royal Ballet and Opera) left in the whole of the UK; with the stability and benefits of year-round employment and year-round opportunities for engagement of freelancers.

“It diminishes opportunities in the profession, it diminishes opportunities for skilled orchestral musicians in Wales, and the future of the profession for Wales’s aspiring young musicians.”

The future of opera in Wales and England must not be low paid jobs, insecure contracts, and access only for those who can afford it. Sign the petition to protect WNO.

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