ROH Placates Unions on Way to RecoveryDate: 2 November 1998
The deadline set by Royal Opera House chairman Sir Colin Southgate for staff to agree new, more restrictive contracts came and went at the end of last week. And, though final contracts remain unsigned, the ROH Board announced that crisis has been averted and substantial progress made.
According to the Board, negotiations with all of the unions involved - Equity, representing the dancers of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera Chorus, the Musicians' Union, representing members of the Orchestra, and BECTU, representing staff who provide backstage services - are well advanced.
In a statement, Southgate commented: 'Although there are some minor matters still to be resolved between the various parties, we have now reached agreement on enough matters of substance for us to be confident that comprehensive agreements with the main staff representatives are imminent. I am therefore pleased to be able to say that the possibility of the closure of the Royal Opera House has receded considerably.'
The planned agreements will result in minimal compulsory redundancies, with reductions in staff achieved through voluntary redundancy and the non-replacement of vacant posts over time. The negotiations follow Southgate's announcement 9 September of a radical rescue programme for the financially precarious ROH. The plan includes closure of the Opera for nearly a year from January 1999. At the time, massive redundancies, including the dismissal of the entire 38-strong Chorus, were expected.
Alongside the union negotiations, the ROH has also been conducting an investigation into the benefit of outsourcing its backstage production and servicing departments. The conclusion has been that, in the majority of cases, no benefit would be gained from changing existing in-house arrangements, but no decision has yet been taken. Reorganisation of the management of such administrative areas awaits the arrival of the incoming Executive Director, the American Michael Kaiser, who takes up his post on 12 November.