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Union Members Vote Yes to Potential Strike Action at English National Opera

MU members in the English National Opera (ENO) orchestra and Music Staff have voted overwhelmingly in favour of potential strike action in a ballot that closed on 21 December 2023.

Published: 21 December 2023 | 5:29 PM
Crowd of wooden figures in a circle holding a sign with a red tick, representing a collective vote for yes.
MU members affected are campaigning for ENO to remain a full-time company with a full-time orchestra, music staff and chorus. Image credit: Shutterstock.

92% of MU members at ENO responded to the ballot, of which 93% voted yes to full strike action and 98% for Action Short of a Strike.

The ballot was called as a result of ENO management plans to axe 19 posts in the orchestra and make the orchestra and music staff part time.

Our members don’t take ballots for potential industrial action lightly

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “Our members don’t take ballots for potential industrial action lightly. We want to avoid a strike if possible, and management need to bring alternative proposals to the table in early January if they want to avoid this as well.”

The plans, which had been discussed with Arts Council England prior to their announcement in October 2023, 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.

Earlier in December, 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.

MU National Organiser for Orchestras Jo Laverty said: “To date, there is no guarantee how much work or what type of work there will be for our members at the new base in Manchester.

“Without the orchestra, music staff and chorus, what are the audiences and communities in Manchester going to get? We absolutely want ENO to succeed in the new base but it is at risk of becoming a brand without enough substance to back it up.”

MU members affected are campaigning for ENO to remain a full-time company with a full-time orchestra, music staff and chorus.

Background to the announcement

ENO management's plans follow vigorous campaigning by the MU, Equity and BECTU 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 MU 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.

Currently it is only members of the MU, Equity and BECTU whose employment is being decimated.

The average musician earns just £20,000 a year

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.

It is unclear how ENO management expects people in the ENO orchestra to survive on six months work a year, or sustain careers over the remaining six months.

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