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MU Hits Back at English National Opera Plans to Axe Jobs and Go Part-Time

The English National Opera plans to axe 19 posts and employ the remaining musicians on part-time contracts.

Published: 13 October 2023 | 4:45 PM
A crowd of people holding MU branded signs saying 'Fund the Arts', 'Save the ENO' and '#BehindEveryMusician' from a rally in 2022.
" We won't stand by as arts organisations wither and our members' careers are decimated". Image credit: The Musicians' Union ©

Mu members at the English National Opera (ENO) have learned that the company plans to axe 19 posts and employ its remaining musicians on part-time contracts.  

The management's new proposals, which have been discussed with Arts Council England (ACE), are a result of decreased funding for ENO since 2014, the instruction to Arts Council England from Nadine Dorries to move funding out of London, and other financial challenges facing ENO.

Like other organisations, ENO must pay back its Covid recovery loan as of next year and it says the funding granted to it by Arts Council England is simply not enough to cover its costs, move partially out of London, and maintain full-time employment for its performers. 

The MU plans to reject the proposals and fight to keep its members at ENO in full time jobs, on full time pay. 

Fighting hard for a brighter future for members

MU National Organiser for Orchestras Jo Laverty said: "ENO management were clear that it was the support and campaigning of the unions that helped them achieve their improved ACE funding settlement.

“To now be faced with these proposed cuts to our members' jobs is devastating and we can't accept what's on the table. We weren't naive to the likelihood of changes but the extent of these proposals will send shockwaves through the music community and ENO's audience.

“The Government and Arts Council England have put ENO in an impossible situation and rather than 'levelling up' we're seeing arts organisations cut performances and creative output. It's a dire situation and extremely bleak for our affected members.

“We urge the ENO to reconsider these proposals and call upon the Government and Arts Council England to take urgent action in support of the company.

“Our members in the orchestra of ENO do not deserve to be treated in this way, especially given the quality and breadth of their recent work. The Union will fight hard to secure a brighter future for them."

Proposals would mean ENO is no longer a viable career option for most

This announcement comes at a difficult time for the arts sector with several other major institutions across the country also making cuts to musicians' jobs and pay.

The average musician earns just £20,000, according to our recent Musicians’ Census, the same average pay as a decade ago. In the meantime, following the closure of live performances during the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis continuing, many musicians are struggling to support themselves. 

MU Steward at the ENO, violinist Glen Sheldon said: "I am deeply shocked by the announcement to take a carving knife to the employment of ENO’s musicians, leaving a rump of work that will no longer be a viable option for many currently employed there, or for those looking to it as a beacon of future opportunity."  

The orchestra is a fundamental part of English National Opera

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “We campaigned for ENO's survival as a company and the orchestra is a fundamental part of that company. 

“The Government and Arts Council England need to urgently reconsider their recent decision-making and get back in the room with ENO's management. The combination of reduced funding, a Covid recovery loan to repay, rising costs and the instruction to partially move out of London is too much for ENO to navigate through.

“For the Government to increase theatre and orchestral tax relief, which we welcomed, but still leave organisations having to downsize is counter intuitive.

“If the Government wants the UK to remain a leading light in music and the creative industries, as well as to stimulate growth in these sectors, they must act now to protect our cultural institutions. The Covid recovery loans were intended to keep organisations running permanently. We won't stand by as arts organisations wither and our members' careers are decimated." 

Ensuring the orchestra has a full-time future

The Union calls on ENO to reconsider its proposals and ACE to support them in this process, ensuring their employed orchestra has a full-time future. 

The Union is also calling on the Government to:

  • Write off Covid recovery loans for cultural organisations given the cost of living crisis
  • Permanently raise the orchestral and theatre tax relief
  • Reverse its instruction to Arts Council England to take money out of London
  • Implement better ways of making sure that the whole country benefits from cultural investment

The MU helped secure the future of the ENO earlier this year 

Following the announcement of Arts Council England funding cuts in November 2022, the MU worked with Equity and BECTU to challenge the cuts and secure a better funding agreement for ENO.

Below is a summary of activity:  

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Exterior of the Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff, where the Welsh National Opera is based.

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