English National Opera Chorus Votes to Join Orchestra & Music Staff in Full Strike

By Afton Wooten

(Photo credit: Equity)

The chorus members at the English National Opera have voted 100% in favor of strike action in a ballot conducted by its union, Equity.

The ballot opened on Jan. 4 and closed on the 16th. English National Opera chorus members turned out at 94.11% (32 out of 34 chorus members). 100% voted “yes” to full strike action and to take action short of a strike. The chorus joins the Musicians’ Union members (English National Opera’s orchestra and as music staff) on Feb. 1 for the first day of full strike action. This date coincides with the opening night of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which will not go ahead if the strikes take place.

The strike is in response to the company’s plans to reduce its opera season and contracts in London following a reduction in Arts Council England’s funding. English National Opera’s management announced plans to fire the chorus, orchestra, and music staff and re-employ them for six months of the year. Some proposals included employees being offered ad-hoc freelance work only.

Ronald Nairne, ENO chorus member and Equity Deputy (workplace representative), said in a press release, “It gives me no pleasure to vote for strike action – I joined the ENO chorus to sing, and to share opera with as many people as possible. Management’s proposals to fire and rehire me and my colleagues with a 40% salary cut and worsened working conditions will make remaining in the chorus unsustainable for many. I voted yes to taking strike action to force our management to reconsider their plans and come up with a different, more creative model that protects the workforce.”

The Musicians’ Union members begin their strike on Jan. 30. They will be leafleting the dress rehearsal of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and ask audience members to show solidarity with the orchestra and music staff, some of whom could lose up to 70% of their work. This would be the first time Musicians’ Union members have taken full strike action since July 1980.