English National Opera resolves pay dispute with chorus staff

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The English National Opera (Eno) has resolved a pay dispute with staff employed as members of its chorus.

The employees, who are members of Equity, the trade union for professional performers and creative practitioners, were due to strike on 18 March over proposed pay cuts of 25% for 44 employees, and the potential loss of jobs for four members of staff.

The chorus would have conducted the strike by remaining silent during the first act of a performance of Akhnaten at the London Coliseum.

Of the 98% of staff that took part in the ballot on industrial action, 100% voted in favour of strike action.

The newly agreed pay deal will see employees’ pay package reduced from £40,900 to £35,000, including basic pay, holiday pay, pension contributions and an enhanced vocal maintenance allowance. The Eno had initially proposed a reduction in pay to £30,685.

The new pay rate will come into effect from August 2017.

The settlement will also see the Eno Chorus move to a nine-month contract that runs from August-April. Between May and July, when the company does not perform at the London Coliseum, chorus employees will be offered work on a first refusal basis.

The 44-strong chorus will reduce to 40 members from August 2016.

Christine Payne, general secretary at Equity, said: “I am relieved that this dispute has been settled without the chorus being forced into industrial action.

“In the harsh financial realities Eno finds itself, as a result of cuts from Arts Council England, the chorus have had no choice but to agree to reductions in their guaranteed pay. We hope that this will mean that Eno management stabilises the organisation and returns it to all-year round opera production in the near future.”

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Cressida Pollock, chief executive at the Eno, added: “I am delighted that we have been able to reach a deal with Equity. We recognise the fundamental importance of the Eno Chorus in delivering world-class opera. We listened to the concerns of the chorus and have reached a fair compromise that preserves the permanent ensemble, focusing on our London Coliseum season, while ensuring that we have the building blocks in place to increase our outside work.

“This settlement will contribute to the wider changes in our business model, to ensure that Eno becomes a more financially resilient organisation, able to move forward on a reduced public subsidy.”