The Royal Opera House And National Theatre Announce Redundancies
Following the UK government’s decision to provide Arts funding in early July, The Royal Opera House and National Theatre announce redundancies just weeks later.
In mid-July, The Royal Opera House confirmed it had terminated all casual contracts, and that a voluntary redundancy process for permanent staff ‘restructuring’ had begun.
ROH Chief Executive, Alex Beard, is facing criticism from onlookers as well as staff members following this decision, particularly as employers are supposed to start making furlough contributions from the end of July. Beard has reportedly taken a “significant reduction” in his £300,000 salary, however for the newly redundant or furloughed staff the future is unclear.
Talking to the Stage, casual stage technician, Shawn McCrory, urged Beard to reconsider the redundancies, explaining he is ineligible for the self-employed government support as ROH provided more than half of his earnings. Writing to Beard, McCrory said:
“In a given year, for every full-time technician, the House requires about seven weeks of casual employment, to cover holiday, sick days, training and lieu days. That does not take into account tours, and long-term absences or jobs that have not been filled. We are integral to the successful running of the operation of the Opera House and its productions.”
Beard replied to McCrory via email to confirm that no further help would be available from ROH.
What about the government bailout?
The £1.57 billion investment launched just a matter of days before redundancies were announced. This support package was rolled out to protect Britain’s world-class cultural, Arts and heritage institutions. Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
“Our world-renowned galleries, museums, heritage sites, music venues and independent cinemas are not only critical to keeping our economy thriving, employing more than 700,000 people, they’re the lifeblood of British culture.
That’s why we’re giving them the vital cash they need to safeguard their survival, helping to protect jobs and ensuring that they can continue to provide the sights and sounds that Britain is famous for.”
Likewise, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced:
“This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”
Despite the apparent good intentions for saving British culture and institutions, The National Theatre similarly announced 400 redundancies to their casual staff, which included 250 front-of-house staff.
Because details of the government’s support package have yet to be finalised and ironed out in full, there is the likelihood that more venues will follow suit and cut staff while they wait. Every day in the UK, grassroots venues all the way up to large capacity establishments are permanently closing their doors and unable to support their staff until there is some clarity on how and when financial support may arrive.
What can be done?
As the UK fears the demise of the Arts sector and the people it’s affecting, there has been a renewed campaign for a Universal Basic Income, which has been supported by the UK’s Green Party for some time. Led by The Musicians’ Union, the call for financial security in the gig economy includes all Arts professionals, as Billy Lunn who helped to organise the campaign’s letter to Rishi Sunak explained:
“We believe the government should extend universal basic income to those working within the Arts, which extends to not only those who perform on the stages, but also to those without whom the show could never even come to fruition: the technicians, the producers, the directors, the promoters, the stage-hands – all of whom make up the 210,000 jobs in the Arts sector.
At a time when it is the Arts that are getting us all through the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic with our sense of purpose of being intact, we must therefore be there for the Arts when they need us the most.”