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Musicians’ Union Members Reach Agreement with English National Opera

The MU has reached an agreement with English National Opera for musicians in the orchestra, and an offer in principle for music staff.

Published: 15 February 2024 | 11:52 AM
People with placards 'Fund the Arts', 'We are union strong', ;We are ENO'
All current ENO members will be offered the seven months of guaranteed work. Photo: Jonathan Stewart for Musicians' Union

We are pleased to announce that the Musicians' Union (MU) has reached an agreement with English National Opera (ENO) for the orchestra.

As a result, we are cancelling all planned strike and action short of strike by MU members in the orchestra at ENO.

Seven months of guaranteed work

Our members in the orchestra voted for a package including seven months of guaranteed work, a minimum redundancy payment and important improvements to the proposed contract.

All current orchestra members will be offered the seven months of guaranteed work. This was an important principle for the orchestra as a collective; they didn't want to see any colleague left behind.

Musicians should be on full time contracts

The musicians want to make it clear that they have voted for the package because they want to see the company and orchestra contribute to make as much opera as possible.

Our members - who will be made redundant and then rehired as part of the process - are also clear that they should be on full time contracts and ENO should be performing opera with its artistic forces year-round.

MU members in the music staff have agreed to an offer in principle and are in the process of confirming details with ENO management.

A result of Arts Council England funding cuts

Musicians’ Union General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with ENO for the orchestra, albeit a deal that our members have accepted with heavy hearts.

“It was clear that the current Arts Council England funding package and instruction to move out of London by 2029 did not provide for full-time jobs for ENO's performers at the present time.

“This is a tragedy and we are worried about how our members will make ends meet over the next couple of transition years for the company. Our deal has focused on the best package achievable to try to keep the orchestra together.”

In addition to supporting orchestra members affected by arts funding cuts, the MU is calling on the UK government to:

  • Provide specific funding for touring to cover increasing costs
  • Make the orchestral and theatre tax relief extensions permanent
  • Write off or delay repayment of Covid recovery loans
  • Reverse Nadine Dorries’ instruction to Arts Council England that led to English National Opera being asked to relocate

ENO should be making full time opera in London and Manchester

MU National Organiser for Orchestras Jo Laverty said: “Our members remain deeply disappointed that they have lost so much work and income when many of the other ENO staff have stayed full time.

“It is our intention to work on building up our members work with ENO so they can return to full contracts. An ideal long-term situation would see ENO making opera full time in both London and Manchester.”

No colleague left behind

MU Regional Organiser for London Jamie Pullman said: “It was important to the orchestra from day one of this crisis that they wanted to be treated as a whole ensemble and any deal should be available to all ENO orchestra members. They didn't want to see any colleague left behind.

“We are pleased that the final agreement achieved this and we hope it will enable as many musicians as possible to stay with ENO through this transition period and beyond. We hope ENO has a bright future and our members should be at the heart of that.”

Background to this industrial dispute

ENO management first announced plans to axe 19 posts in the orchestra and make the orchestra and music staff part-time in November 2023.

The announcement followed eight months of vigorous campaigning by the Musicians’ Union, Equity and BECTU to save the organisation after a 100% cut to its National Portfolio funding in November 2022.

Trade union campaigning played a significant role in achieving an improved funding settlement from Arts Council England in July 2023.

In a letter from August 2023, outgoing ENO Chief Executive Stuart Murphy thanked the Musicians’ Union and other relevant unions for their significant role in the campaign to have the ENO’s funding reinstated.

Murphy referred to the unions and management working side by side and praised union members for their conduct during the campaign.

ENO’s plans to axe jobs and go part-time are a result of decreased funding for ENO since 2014, other financial challenges such as inflation and the cost of living crisis, and the instruction to Arts Council England from former Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries to move funding out of London.

The plans had been discussed with Arts Council England prior to being made public.

In December 2023, ENO management announced Manchester as a new base for some performances, wellbeing and learning activities. However, it is unclear how much work will be undertaken there, what this will be in practice, and who will be doing it.

It is only members of the Musicians’ Union, Equity and BECTU whose employment is being affected.

MU members voted for possible strike action in December 2023. The MU announced it would be starting a programme of action short of strike on Tuesday 30 January 2024 and full strike action on Thursday 1 February 2024 to coincide with opening night of The Handmaid’s Tale.

This strike action was downgraded to action short of strike to allow for negotiations on an improved offer from management at ACAS. As a result of the agreement reached, all future industrial action in this dispute is cancelled.

The average musician earns just £20,000 a year

ENO’s 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 the Musicians’ Census - the same average pay as a decade ago.

Almost a third (30%) of all musicians reported experiencing negative mental wellbeing. This group were twice as likely to say that it was unlikely that they would be working in music in one to five years.

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.

Key moments from members’ industrial campaigning



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