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Workers rally to save Opera Australia jobs
Workers from Opera Australia are to today protest plans by the company to axe over 25% of its permanent workforce and terminate the contracts of many others.
Staff; members of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and their supported will stage a musical performance on Sydney’s Bennelong Lawn (above the Sydney Opera House in the Royal Botanical Garden Sydney) before calling on Federal Minister for the Arts, Paul Fletcher, to step in to save jobs from a company restructure forced upon it by COVID-19.
Opera Australia’s management has also signalled that it wants to tear up the enterprise agreements which regulate pay and conditions for musicians, choral performers, technicians, stage hands, wigs and wardrobes, props manufacturing and set construction at the company.
Unhappy with job losses and other changes as part of an organisational restructure flagged by the company last month, the MEAA says Minister Fletcher must bring forward financial support to for the leading opera company.
Paul Davies, Director of MEAA's Musicians section, explained this morning “with a quarter of Opera Australia’s singers, technicians and orchestra musicians facing the sack, with an Opera House that will be unable to hold opera performances because there just won’t be a company able to do it anymore, we ask: what will it take to get the federal and state Arts Ministers to act?
"NSW Wales has $50 million of financial support for the arts on the table, and the Federal Minister has authorised even more money to help companies like Opera Australia get through this pandemic and the deepest recession in almost a century. So where is it? Show us the money.
"How is it that Opera Australia is intent on sacking huge numbers of its employees as well as terminating the contracts of just as many, when there is meant to be money to save these jobs and protect this hugely important, world-class company?
"Why is it that these workers are set to be sacked, while they are receiving JobKeeper and have agreed to cut their own salaries in half for the last six months?
"What is the purpose of JobKeeper and arts relief funding if it isn’t to keep these jobs, to save this company and avoid the destruction of a national treasure?"
Davies said MEAA has offered to negotiate an Emergency Measures agreement with Opera Australia that would moderate wages and conditions over the period it takes to transition to some form of 'COVID normal' production environment, advising “we have reached similar agreements with other iconic arts companies. Arts workers understand the financial reality of the recession and want to put their energies into saving the institutions they work for.
"They want to see artistic excellence and all forms of creative activity thrive because they know that’s what keeps societies going, especially in tough times like these.
"There are no creative arts without these workers. Who will make the halls of the Sydney Opera House reverberate if not those who sing, who make music, and who bring these productions to life behind the stage?
"What message are we sending our children and future generations when we decide to jettison these workers and let these companies die?
"What will it take to get Governments to step up and spend the money they say is there? What are they hiding?"
The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that the MEAA had referred the dispute to the Fair Work Commission following 16 of 50 Opera Australia’s full-time musicians having been asked to meet with management about their future employment, along with another four in the chorus.
Similar staff numbers had been targeted in technical and manufacturing departments, including props, costumes and wigs.
After an abrupt end to their 2020 season, Opera Australia announced on 21st August that it was putting its Alexandria warehouse up for sale in an attempt to stem multimillion-dollar revenue losses caused by COVID-19 lockdowns.
Opera Australia applied for a share of the NSW Government's $50 million rescue funding but the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the company was encouraged to all but exhaust its cash reserves first.
Images: Opera Australia's Ring Cycle in Brisbane was to have been a box office blockbuster before COVID-19 shut it down (top, courtesy of Opera Australia) and Paul Davies, Director of MEAA's Musicians section (below)
24th August 2020 - Opera Australia to restructure and sell warehouse base
7th September 2020 - Brisbane Festival 2020 reconnects communities with the arts
1st September 2020 - Parliamentary Inquiry into benefits and impact of arts during Coronavirus
21st August 2020 - QPAC leads Queensland arts venues in preparing for reopening
29th April 2020 - JobKeeper improvements needed to sustain Queensland Arts Sector
16th April 2020 - Coronavirus hit arts industry needs $750 million rescue package
23rd April 2019 - Opera Australia’s West Side Story breaks all box office records
13th July 2017 - Opera Australia delivering 19 performances across regional Australia
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