Equity Responds to Welsh National Opera Chorus Cuts

WNO has proposed reducing full-time contracts of chorus to 45 weeks with salary cut of at least 15% a year.

By: May. 13, 2024
Equity Responds to Welsh National Opera Chorus Cuts
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Equity has responded to Welsh National Opera chorus cuts.

WNO has proposed reducing full-time contracts of chorus to 45 weeks with salary cut of at least 15% a year. Another proposal has been to reduce the chorus threatens compulsory redundancies.

This comes after an open letter was put together urging the UK government to protect the Welsh National Opera, which has fallen victim to cuts causing issues in its operation. A total of 176 signatories are on the letter at this time. Learn more here.

Equity, the performing arts and entertainment trade union representing WNO chorus members, “will keep all options open to fight an attack on our members' pay and conditions” says General Secretary Paul W Fleming.

Read Equity's full statement below:

Welsh National Opera (WNO) has, for some time, been signalling an intent to put revised contract proposals on the table for Equity members in the chorus of WNO. The union has always been open to the process and believed that despite the challenging financial situation the company faced, they would protect the chorus as an integral part of what WNO describe as the “musical and artistic backbone of Welsh National Opera”. 

In recent weeks, however, opaque proposals for changes to our members terms and conditions have been tabled which would fundamentally undermine the job security of this highly skilled professional ensemble. 

Like the proposals put forward for the orchestra, the WNO management are looking to reduce the current full-time contracts of our members to 45 weeks with an estimated cut in base salary of at least 15% a year. In addition, they are seeking to reduce and rebalance the size of the chorus, already under resourced, with a process which can only lead to the real threat of compulsory redundancy.

WNO management cite ongoing financial difficulties caused by substantial cuts to their funding from both Arts Council England (ACE) and Arts Council of Wales (ACW). These retrograde decisions have already seen a reduction in output with touring weeks lost in Liverpool, Llandudno, and Bristol. Touring is, and always has been, the lifeblood of the company and diminishing output brings diminishing returns, seriously undermining the stated mission of the WNO to bring opera to as wide an audience as possible.  

A solution must be found for the long-term funding from both England and Wales.

Equity will not accept compulsory redundancies or the desire of WNO management to make contracts ‘flexible' solely to their own advantage, while adding the precarity of an unsustainable cut to chorus members' basic earnings.  Equity's resistance to the current proposals cannot, and will not, be contingent on the decisions of funders. 

We are asking Equity members, and the general public, to write to their politicians in both the Senedd and Westminster to ask them to stop the cuts to arts funding, and specifically to opera. Where the work of WNO means something to you personally, or professionally, we want you to make the case to #SaveOurWNO.  

Equity's Deputy and Chorus Committee at WNO (made up of Equity members working at WNO) says, “The proposal to diminish our full-time status seems reckless, albeit against the financial constraints imposed on the company, and will ultimately, we believe, have a damaging impact on the company's ability to recruit and retain choristers going forward – which will ultimately damage the company's ability to meet its vision of an uncompromising quest for artistic quality.    

“The quality and excellence of WNO are an essential part of the cultural landscape and reputation of Wales and the UK around the world, and it was on the chorus' strength from which WNO's reputation was founded almost 80 years ago. The chorus was built from the communities of Wales and the many dedicated people for whom the survival of “their” company became a passion, a crusade and a fight against sometimes daunting odds. The chorus today still maintain that passion and fight, which is why we are asking you to #SaveOurWNO.” 

Paul W Fleming, Equity General Secretary says, “There is a significant chasm between the views of the workforce and the view of funders as to who opera is for. We know that opera should be for everyone – as both an art form and a career choice. The arts councils in Wales and England need to step up to sort this funding crisis, whilst WNO go back to the drawing board on these unjust proposals. The funders and the bosses must know: Equity will keep all options open to fight an attack on our members' pay and conditions.” 

Simon Curtis, Equity's National and Regional Official for Wales and South West England says, “Rather than the future of opera in Wales being one of low paid jobs and precarious shorter fixed-term contracts, we need there to be a recognition of the industry's wider positive impacts. The performing arts and entertainment industry fosters local economic development, social inclusion, education and skills, tourism, physical and mental wellbeing, and strengthens the global reputation of our country. Strategic reviews of the company's operations over many years, all of which have involved both Arts Councils, have always concluded that maintaining a full-time chorus and orchestra was central to sustaining WNO's part of that ecosystem with their quality and contribution to the artistic landscape.” 



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