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Music Education, Brexit and the Cost of Living Crisis: an Update From the General Secretary

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl looks at the union’s policy priorities and industrial strategy this autumn.

Photo ofNaomi Pohl
By Naomi Pohl Published: 15 September 2022 | 5:37 PM Updated: 02 August 2023 | 12:35 PM
Naomi Pohl with other General Secretaries on the front line of the We Demand Better march with banner.
We will also be supporting the TUC and fellow unions in their campaigns around the cost of living crisis. Image credit: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

It’s been a very difficult few months for everyone, and it would be easy to feel dispirited. But the union is working hard for members, and we will help however we can.

This is the first in a regular series of updates from me as your General Secretary, running through policy priorities, industrial strategy and union work for members. It’s part of my commitment to you that I will be open and accessible to members and ensure all musicians are equally represented.

If you would like to be more involved in the running of the union and what we do across the four UK nations, please consider standing for a position on your Regional Committee or the union’s Executive Committee. You can also attend your region’s upcoming Annual General Meeting for an opportunity to connect with local members and meet your local MU team.

Music education

Our current focus is members' pay and conditions with the broader and longer-term goal of achieving universal access to music education.

The Fabian Society recently released a report supported by the MU which makes various recommendations to improve the music education landscape and music teachers' terms of engagement. We will be promoting the report at the upcoming Labour Party Conference and hope the recommendations would be adopted if a Labour Government is elected.

In Wales, the Senedd have committed to a review of visiting music teachers' pay and conditions which is very welcome and we expect this to commence in 2023. We are calling for a similar commitment from the other UK Nations and the Department for Education.

As well as promoting music education at the Labour Party Conference, we will have a presence at Conservative Party Conference where we will also be focusing on this issue.

Brexit impact

The Union is now receiving reports of musicians reaching the limit of 90 days' work in a 180 day period for working in the EU. This means tours being caught short, UK musicians missing out on work, and is yet another barrier for our members at an incredibly difficult time.

The Secretariat and newly appointed Head of International Dave Webster continue to work with UK Music, LIVE and other creative industry organisations to lobby for an EU-wide cultural touring agreement or VISA waiver. We are hoping to be involved in developing a UK Brexit information hub for the music industry and we are also committed to pursuing bilateral agreements with individual territories.

Cost of living crisis

We are extremely cognisant of the impact of the cost of living crisis on our members' outgoings and the need for a corresponding increase in pay. I am also looking at how the Union can provide additional support to members directly over the next few months while home energy bills are rising.

In negotiation, we are focused on bringing any Covid-19 variations to an end, if possible and as soon as possible, as well as achieving an increase in pay across the various sectors of the music industry and music education.

The very challenging backdrop for negotiations is a combination of standstill public funding for the arts, some organisations facing cuts, the BBC's future funding being called into question, and the live sector still in recovery following Covid-19 restrictions. Of course, there are some areas of the music industry which have not suffered as a result of Covid-19 crisis and do not rely on arts funding; see my item on Fix Streaming below.

It is clear that we need a longer-term strategy to improve pay and I will be working on this into my second year as General Secretary. I have promised that we will look at conditions as well as pay and we are building an industrial campaign that will sit across all areas of work. Members will be consulted in due course as we formulate this plan.

We will also be supporting the TUC and fellow unions in their campaigns around the cost of living crisis. The TUC is fighting for a £15 national minimum wage and members can sign their petition to get more information about future actions.

The MU Executive Committee has also voted to back the Enough is Enough campaign and its five demands:

  1. A Real Pay Rise.
  2. Slash Energy Bills.
  3. End Food Poverty.
  4. Decent Homes for All.
  5. Tax the Rich.

Enough is Enough is also hosting events happening in support of the campaign around the UK.

Fix Streaming Campaign 

The MU has written to the Competition & Markets Authority following the publication of their report to highlight various issues with it and reiterate our call for a full investigation. Thank you to all members who did the same and raised the union’s key asks.

Pricing has remained remarkably static for many years, there is weak competition between the major labels and the music publishing side of the business is undervalued. In addition, we are still calling for a better deal for session musicians who currently receive no streaming royalties.

I am working with other industry bodies - in particular our Fix Streaming partner The Ivors Academy, and Council of Music Maker member organisations - on a package of proposals to improve remuneration for performers and creators. Look out for more on this as things develop.

Members’ Conference

The union has been asking a lot of members lately and there is one more thing I would like to mention. The MU is hosting its second ever Members’ Conference on 17-18 October and this year’s theme is building an inclusive trade union and music industry.

The programme is excellent and the MU is an industry leader when it comes to policy in this area. It is pertinent to all we do and to all members; inclusion is for everyone.

The Conference is free for members to attend, and we will cover expenses and loss of earnings to enable as many musicians as possible to be involved. I hope to see you there and looking forward to working with you on a member-led policy for the union to take forward.


What does it mean to be an inclusive trade union and music industry?

Join the MU's General Secretary, the Union’s Executive Committee and other members in creative discussion at the MU Members' Conference 2022.

Find out more and book your place

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Make a change in your local area or within your music sector, or to be part of the governing body of the union. Get involved with the Musicians' Union's work.

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