English National Opera strike suspended as interim settlement agreed

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A planned strike by musicians and performers in the English National Opera over planned cuts to its workforce has been suspended.

On Monday, the performing arts union Equity announced an interim settlement with the ENO and said it expected a full resolution soon.

“We are pleased to announce that Equity has reached an interim settlement with the English National Opera for the chorus,” a statement said. “Although this does not mark the absolute end of negotiations, we are confident that constructive talks can lead to a full resolution in the coming weeks.”

It added: “Consequently, industrial action on The Handmaid’s Tale on the 1st February is suspended. This suspension also allows time for the ENO to complete its negotiations with the Musicians’ Union, who are also suspending their action, and to confirm the final details of both offers.”

The union added its mandate for strikes remained live “until such time a full settlement is reached”.

The ballots were conducted after ENO management announced plans to make all of the chorus, orchestra and music staff redundant and re-employ them for six months of the year. It was proposed that some musicians in the orchestra would be offered ad hoc freelance work only.

The unions said the plans would threaten musicians’ livelihoods, and were a sign of extremely difficult times for the orchestral sector and opera and ballet in particular.

Speaking to the Guardian earlier this month, members who had voted to strike said they were being used as “pawns” in a political game by ENO management.

Glen Sheldon, the second violin of the orchestra and steward of the Musicians’ Union at the ENO, said many ENO musicians were considering whether or not they would have to leave the industry entirely.

Ronald Nairne, an ENO chorus member, said: “We went out and campaigned with management, we wrote letters to MPs, we appealed to the Arts Council, cross-parliamentary groups and the DCMS [Department for Culture, Media and Sport]. We took it as far as it could go. And now they’ve decided on this business model.”

The ENO’s music director, Martyn Brabbins, resigned last October after the announcement of the cuts.

The ELO was removed from Arts Council England’s (ACE) national portfolio last year, losing its £12.8m annual grant, and told it must move outside London to qualify for future grants. ACE’s decision was condemned as “cultural vandalism”.

ACE later announced extra money and more time for the ENO to transition to a new home. It also said a new business model would allow the company to deliver a substantial opera season every year in London. Last month, the ENO announced it had chosen Greater Manchester as its future home.

Earlier this month, the company’s management maintained the dispute over cuts “could be best resolved around the negotiation table”.