RSC Averts Weekend Strikes as Talks ContinueDate: 14 September 2001
Weekend strike action planned by production staff of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon has been averted at the eleventh hour. The strike, in protest over recently announced redundancies, was due to operate from tomorrow, Saturday 15 September 2001. Officials from BECTU, the trade union for backstage staff, agreed a deal after day-long talks held with RSC management on Wednesday 12 September. The decision to call off the strikes was ratified by union members in Stratford today.
"I am delighted that performances on Saturday will go ahead as planned," said Adrian Noble, RSC artistic director. "Our priority was not to disappoint audiences, many of whom we know will have travelled from all over the world to attend our theatres this weekend."
Noble continued: "This deal is an important one for the Company; it addresses reduced staff numbers, new terms and conditions, as well as a revised redundancy package. It also allows us to move forward with modernisation plans announced in May. We have done everything we can to reduce the impact on all our staff, exploring voluntary redundancy and redeployment wherever possible. Change on this scale is never easy, but it is essential if the RSC is to stay relevant to a new generation of theatregoers."
The RSC's weekend performances of Hamlet and Julius Caesar were set to be affected by the walkout of technical staff. Although these shows will now go ahead, disagreement over the package on offer could still result in future industrial action, according to union officials.
The industrial dispute arose when the RSC unveiled plans to focus on its main base in Stratford-Upon-Avon, at the expense of its Barbican operations. Around 60 positions were expected to become redundant as a result. As part of its far-reaching schedule, the RSC will abandon its London home at the Barbican Centre where it has been based for nearly two decades.
The move completes a partial withdrawal that began in 1997 when the RSC reduced its London residency there to only the six winter months of the year. Noble said at the time that the changes would allow the company to mount "bold and original theatre" for one-off runs, kicked off by glittering openings, in the "heart of the West End".
It's still uncertain how the Barbican Centre will cope with the gaping hole in its schedule. However, the RSC has said that it will return to the Barbican with occasional projects, such as the new production of Alice in Wonderland which will be presented there. Discussions with BECTU about London staff are still ongoing.
- by Gareth Thompson