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Union backs emergency motion to stop job losses at Welsh National Opera

19 May 2024 3 minute read
Equity members show their support for the WNO at the union’s annual conference in Birmingham

An emergency motion to “provide whatever support is required” for a campaign to stop cuts and redundancies to the Welsh National Opera (WNO) chorus passed unanimously today (19 May) at the Equity conference.

The motion also reiterated that the performing arts trade union “will not accept compulsory redundancies, or the desire by WNO management to have the flexibility of a full-time contract with all the precarity of an unsustainable cut to their basic earnings.”

WNO has signalled it intends to put revised contract proposals on the table for those in the chorus who are members of Equity, the performing arts and entertainment trade union.

The union had previously said it was open to the process and believed that despite the challenging financial situation the company faces, they would protect the chorus as an integral part of what WNO describe as the “musical and artistic backbone of Welsh National Opera”.

Opaque proposals

In recent weeks, however, it says “opaque proposals for changes to members terms and conditions have been tabled which would “fundamentally undermine” the job security of the ensemble”.

WNO management are looking to reduce the current full-time contracts of chorus 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, with a process which Equity says can only lead to the real threat of compulsory redundancy.

Hywel Morgan, the Equity Councillor who moved the motion, said: “A year on from conference 2023, we are once again rallying behind the plight of our members working within opera.

“This time the attack on terms and conditions of members working at Welsh National Opera, coming as a direct result of cuts to their funding from Arts Council England and Arts Council Wales.

There continues to be a significant chasm between the views of the workforce and the views of the funders as to who opera is for. We know that opera should be for everyone, as both an artform and a sustainable career choice… As this motion asks, we send to them a resounding message of solidarity from conference today.”

Substantial cuts

WNO says it’s facing ongoing financial difficulties caused by substantial cuts to funding from both Arts Council England and Arts Council of Wales.

Arts Council England cut funding of the WNO by a third to £4 million in 2022 and Arts Council of Wales reduced its funding to WNO by 11.8% following its investment review announced in September 2023.

These decisions have already seen a reduction in output with touring weeks lost in Liverpool, Llandudno, and Bristol.

WNO employs over 250 people ranging from artists, craftspeople, technicians and administrators, based at the Wales Millennium Centre.

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