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MU Orchestras AGM Focuses on Improving Pay, Conditions and Arts Funding

MU members came together at Trades Union Congress headquarters for the union’s Orchestras Annual General Meeting.

Published: 17 January 2023 | 5:33 PM
members attending Orchestral AGM 2023
MU Orchestral AGM took place Monday 16 January 2023. Photo: Musicians' Union

Musicians’ Union members from across the UK discussed the work of the union’s Orchestras Department, looked at pay and conditions in the sector, and shared their views on Arts Council England’s national portfolio funding announcement.

Arts Council England funding cuts make no sense

“Whilst this announcement and subsequent campaigning on behalf of English National Opera from the MU and other unions may have dominated the discourse, the MU has been talking to all orchestras facing cuts,” said National Organiser for Orchestras Jo Laverty.

In particular, Jo highlighted the impact of arts funding cuts on Britten Sinfonia (100%), Glyndebourne (52%), Welsh National Opera (33%), London Sinfonietta (41%), Royal Opera House (13%), London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia (12%).

“Whilst no arts organisation has an unbridled right to funding from the public purse, the reasons for these cuts have not been transparent and clearly make no sense,” she said.

Funding cuts are not the only story to emerge from Arts Council England’s national portfolio announcement, and the MU welcomes new and increased funding for ParaOrchestra, Chineke!, Multi-Story Orchestra, Aurora, English Touring Opera, Northern Ballet, and Opera North.

It’s also good news for Attitude is Everything, who the MU works closely with on creating a culture where musicians can disclose their access requirements without fear of discrimination, MU partner organisation Black Lives in Music.

Standstill funding in Scotland is also a challenge

Orchestras in Scotland are facing standstill funding. Jo’s message to the Scottish Government is clear: standstill funding during a cost of living crisis still presents enormous challenges. “As just one example, we have been told about a company’s energy costs rising by 140%,” Jo explained.

Increases to building, energy and other costs present a big challenge to collective bargaining as employers say pay increases will mean fewer players being booked. The “insidious creep” of arts funding cuts is being felt across the music ecosystem.

The MU is working hard for orchestral players

Against this backdrop, the MU’s three-person Orchestras team have been working tirelessly on behalf of members to get negotiations and agreements over the line.

All of the union’s collective agreements for employed, freelancers, and Extras and Deputies have been settled with pay increases in 2022 except for the employed and Es and Ds agreements for two orchestras.

“Whilst many of these increases sit between 3 and 4% there are higher increases – the top of the chart being the 18% increase at Manchester Camerata,” Jo told members.

Membership of the Orchestras Section has also increased by 17% to an all time high of 3,645 members, thanks in huge part to the dedication to the union’s Stewards in orchestras across the UK.

The department has also taken over providing Health and Safety training for reps and MU staff, with “record numbers” going through stages one and two training.

All of these successes would be impossible without the activism of union members, from Stewards to reps to everyone who attends meetings and votes in ballots. Find out more and get involved.

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