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MU General Secretary’s New Year Message to Orchestral Players

What the union is doing to improve orchestral players’ pay and conditions? MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl spoke to members at this year’s Orchestras Annual General Meeting.

Published: 18 January 2023 | 10:09 AM Updated: 18 January 2023 | 2:54 PM
Naomi Pohl portrait
“We are working on new and improved member benefits that we hope to launch this year." Photo: Musicians' Union

Musicians’ Union members came together in London for this year’s Orchestras Annual General Meeting (AGM). On the agenda were improving pay and conditions, arts funding cuts, and the work of the union in the sector.

In a speech to members, MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl ran through events in Parliament that affect members’ rights and what the union is doing to improve orchestral players terms and conditions.

The event saw a specific focus on freelancers’ pay and conditions, which will be at the centre of union work over the next eighteen months. Naomi encouraged members to look out for more on this soon.

Protect your rights in Parliament

“It is an exceptionally challenging time with the impact of Covid still lingering, the impact of the cost of living crisis, the impact of Brexit, and Arts Council England funding decisions hitting some orchestras particularly hard.

“Of course, we are also conscious of the wider political climate with trade unions striking, the Government still in disarray and the Tories apparently hellbent on causing as much disruption as possible before they had over to a new Government after the general election.

“The EU Retained Law Bill is working its way through Parliament and could roll back 4000 pieces of legislation that originated in the EU, which could affect workers’ rights, maternity leave, health and safety standards, and could make touring in the EU even more difficult than it is now.” Members are encouraged to write to their MPs asking them to vote against it.

The MU is working hard to help members across the UK

“We are particularly conscious of our freelance members and the impact of all of this on their work opportunities and terms and conditions. I thought at the start of your AGM, I would run through some of the things the Union is doing to help our members at this difficult time.

“Firstly, we are working to improve pay wherever possible, and almost all of the Covid variation agreements have now ended. Obviously increasing pay in the current climate is challenging but we are getting the best deals we can and in areas of the business where money isn't so tight, we are getting some significant wins.

“The PACT rates have increased significantly, for example, and many members work under this agreement. We are also in negotiations with the BPI to increase the session rate.

“Our Recording & Broadcasting Department paid out a record £1.3m in royalties to musicians last year in our biggest distribution ever.

“We have extended the criteria of the Musicians’ Union Benevolent Fund so that grants can be made to any members suffering financial hardship, rather than just those affected by illness or injury.

“We are working on new and improved member benefits that we hope to launch this year.

“We will be launching a major industrial campaign focused on improving freelancers' terms and conditions; in particular how musicians are treated at work. We have heard some horror stories and we want to ensure that our freelance members are treated with dignity and respect, that they are hired on appropriate contracts, and are valued highly by engagers and the wider industry. More news on this will be filtering out to committees soon. We will need to gather data and case studies, so please keep an eye out for a questionnaire which we will send to the freelance orchestral section and the other live performance sections of the MU.

“We are lobbying and campaigning on arts funding, music education, music streaming, and we are still trying to improve the touring situation post-Brexit.

“We are more influential within the Labour Party than ever as we have a seat on the National Executive Committee. We believe that a Labour Government would address a lot of the problems we are currently facing as a sector.

“It is more difficult to get traction with the Conservative Government, but we belong to UK Music and Creative UK who do have influence, so we are working to get our issues addressed via them.

“I just quickly want to run through some of the things we've done to argue for increased arts funding in England:

  • We have written to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Michelle Donelan multiple times but have not received a reply
  • I met with Labour leader Keir Starmer to brief him on a range of issues and I contacted his team immediately after the Arts Council England funding announcement last year
  • We have met Shadow Secretary of State for DCMS Lucy Powell twice, and last week we met Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves
  • We have had many questions asked in Parliament, particularly about English National Opera’s funding cut
  • We are pushing for the 50% orchestras and theatre tax relief to be extended beyond April.

“We are also aware of the cuts in Scotland and are planning a lobbying event there this year. We will organise similar events in Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Making the MU your MU

“Thank you for having me here today. I am here to listen, and I know it is an especially difficult time for our orchestral musicians. We will do everything we can to support you and ensure your value is understood by employers, engagers, the Government and the wider music sector.”

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