BECTU Votes for West End Strike, SOLT Revises BidDate: 22 March 2002
Some 200 members of BECTU - the union that represents the backstage, ticketing and box office staff in the West End - met this afternoon at the Africa Centre in London’s Covent Garden to discuss the way forward with the proposed industrial action. The two-week strike ballot ended this past Tuesday, 19 March, and the vote, announced at today’s meeting, shows an overwhelming 96.3% in favour of work stoppages.
Representatives of the union have continued negotiations with the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), representing theatre owners and producers, which last night turned in a revised offer. BECTU had already rejected a proposed 3.25% pay rise from SOLT. The new bid, says union national organiser Mark David-Gray, is a "significant and quite considerable improvement".
The new SOLT offer would mean an increase across the board of 11.3%, raising the average hourly wage to £7.15 by 7 October 2002. Currently the average hourly West End rate is just £6.33, with many workers earning much less.
Another previous bone of contention was whether new wages would be backdated. According to the revised bid, they would be effective as of 11 February 2002. The proposal would also result in a further wage hike in October, keeping slightly above inflation, at a minimum of 4%.
A consultative ballot explaining the new terms has been reissued to BECTU members who have a fortnight to decide whether to accept it or go ahead with strike action in hopes of a better deal. A stoppage had been mooted for next Saturday, 30 March, over the Easter weekend, but that has now been called off while the improved SOLT offer is considered.
Legally, if backstage workers are to take strike action, it must be initiated within 28 days of the original ballot deadline, which was this past Tuesday. Action would impact 37 commercial theatres within London's West End and, as a result, potentially tens of thousands of theatregoers.
BECTU members who Whatsonstage.com has spoken to think industrial action is now unlikely; although most are still not satisfied with the pay rise, there's a belief that it may be the best they can hope for. BECTU represents approximately 2,500 workers in the West End, 54% of whom took part in this month's strike ballot.
David-Gray told Whatsonstage.com, "We see this (the new SOLT offer) as a big first step towards tackling poverty pay amongst theatre workers in the West End. This success is due to the courage and solidarity of BECTU members who have stuck together on this issue." It will now be up to those members to determine whether it's a big enough step.