Entertainment & Arts

English National Opera singers to be balloted over strike

The Magic Flute Image copyright ENO/Robbie Jack
Image caption The ENO said it would have to reduce its main stage season at the Coliseum, producing more work in and outside of London

Equity is to ballot the English National Opera's chorus over strike action in a row over job and pay cuts.

The union said 44 singers were facing a 25% pay cut and the loss of four jobs, and warned cuts could push the renowned company into "terminal decline".

In April last year, the ENO announced it was cutting ticket prices in an attempt to secure its financial future.

Chief executive Cressida Pollock said: "We are committed to preserving a permanent chorus at ENO."

In a blog post responding to an online petition to minimalise cuts, she wrote: "We have some difficult decisions to make over coming weeks as we seek to find ways to remodel our business so that we can weather a £5m cut from our core Arts Council grant."

Pollock said the company was "working towards a solution with the ENO chorus which would see them maintained as a permanent ensemble but with a greater degree of flexibility in their contracts".

The choristers attended a news conference in London on Monday announcing the ballot, and performed a song from The Pirates Of Penzance.

On top of the cuts to pay and posts, Equity said managers were also planning to increase hours, remove payment for Sunday working and stop overtime pay.

The union said it feared bigger pay cuts if the proposals go ahead.

'Cultural vandalism'

In February last year, the Arts Council dropped ENO from its national portfolio of organisations for 2015-18.

Pollock said: "For a few years, we will need to reduce our main stage season at the Coliseum, producing more work in and outside of London. This is a temporary measure and by 2020, we envisage producing 10 large-scale productions on the main stage at the Coliseum and a further 6 around London or outside, including a full repertoire.

Equity's ballot will be over potential strikes and is not the first time performers and backstage staff at the company have threatened industrial action.

In 2006, staff suspended plans for a strike after a new pay deal was reached which saw a boost to staff pension contributions.

While, in 2003, the chorus went on strike, forcing the cancellation of Berlioz's The Trojans - The Capture Of Troy, at their home in London's Coliseum.

Equity's Stephen Spence warned against "cultural vandalism," caused by the latest round of cuts, adding: "We are attempting to retain the artistic integrity of the ENO."

Equity said the choristers are currently paid £32,900 annually, and would find it difficult to continue living in London if they lost a quarter of their salary.

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