Theatre News

West End strikes ‘ready as last resort’ as performers and stage management demand 17 per cent pay rise

A West End theatre
A West End theatre

West End performers and stage management have launched a new campaign for a 17 per cent pay rise.

The campaign comes from Equity, the performing arts and entertainment trade union, with an official start date from tomorrow morning.

Equity has released new figures reflecting the financial circumstances of West End performers. Two thirds of West End members have considered leaving the industry, while 45 per cent of West End members have a second job, with over half of that number saying this is because their West End pay doesn’t cover living expenses.

The campaign comes during a period of major inflation, when the average monthly rent for a room in London has reached £935.

Paul W Fleming, Equity’s general secretary, said today: “Coming out of Covid, our industry was determined to ‘build back better’, and Equity’s West End campaign on work, rest and pay is the start of making that aspiration a reality. At a time of high inflation, our members have decided to ‘Stand Up For 17 Per Cent’ – a sensible rise in the minimum when rents, energy, and other costs have continued to rocket for over a year.

“We’re looking forward to sitting down with the producers in the coming months to find a roadmap to implement our reasonable aspirations. Theatre is about people, particularly its talented and skilled workforce – and we need real focus on ensuring performers and stage management are fairly paid, and achieve a proper work-life balance.”

Beyond the 17 per cent pay rise, Equity is also asking for a five-day rehearsal week (rather than the six-day norm) save for technical rehearsals, as well as an increase to holiday entitlement, based on the assumption of a six-day working week. There are also requests for increased fees for covers (such as those having to step into roles due to absences) to reflect the extra workload required in learning multiple roles.

Hannah Plant, Equity West End Official, added: “As Equity’s West End Official I meet working members every week on big shows whose experiences of struggle and hardship don’t tally with rising ticket prices.

“We need greater financial transparency from producers to ensure that profits aren’t being funnelled off to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of our members. It’s high time West End workers are paid what they deserve given their hard work, expertise and the revenue they generate.”

Negotiations with the Society of London Theatre are set to commence next month, ahead of a final agreement ideally by April 2023.

Speaking to WOS, Fleming has said that there was the possibility of strike action if negotiations are not fruitful: “Equity’s membership on the West End is higher, and more active, than at any point since the end of the closed shop over 30 years ago.

“We have a constructive relationship with the producers, and enter negotiations in that spirit – but the strength of feeling behind the reasonable aspirations of our claim mean we are absolutely clear that nothing is off the table.

“The union is committed to being industrial action ready as a last resort. Our members are standing full square behind their claim, and I’m confident producers will focus on the performer and stage management workforce in the upcoming months of talks.”

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