The Union is appalled to hear that a number of members have been sent a letter by English Touring Opera (ETO) stating that they will not be booked for the 2022 tour. This equates to almost half the orchestra losing their roles. Many of these members have been performing with ETO for twenty years or more and even those who have been with ETO for fewer years, have been loyal to the company season after season.

ETO have stated that they are prioritising “increased diversity in the orchestra. This is in line with the firm guidance of the Arts Council, principal funder of ETO’s touring work, and of most of the trust funds that support ETO”, and that they are tasked with “shaping the modern orchestra.”

While the MU lauds efforts to increase diversity in the workplace, the Union is adamant this should be achieved fairly and legitimately, not by “sacking” half an orchestra. The MU has spoken with Arts Council England (ACE) at length about diversity and inclusion and ways in which this can be appropriately promoted within the orchestral sector.

The Union states that the unexpected and brutal decision taken by ETO risks undermining any positive efforts Arts Council England (ACE) might make in this regard. The MU will be writing to ACE to officially raise a concern about ETO as a result.

There has been an understandable outcry from MU members in response to this news today. It comes at an especially devastating time for the freelance community, and musicians in general, with so many struggling with little work and income during the Covid-19 crisis.

The ETO orchestra has earned praise in the press year after year with some of the players (including those who have not been booked) being mentioned personally for the high standard of their playing. Despite being a freelance orchestra with no security of work, the orchestra has been loyal to the company and to each other as a collective. The members who have received offers of work have expressed how devastated they are for their colleagues.

Jo Laverty, MU National Organiser for Orchestras, said:

“ETO have always resisted the MU’s demands during negotiations to include a ‘first call’ core players list into our Collective Agreement with them. This is a key protection a freelance player can have against losing their regular work in this way. ETO had mooted in pre-pandemic times their desire to ‘refresh’ the orchestra but never in terms of diversity. Neither have there been efforts to address diversity in gradual and inclusive stages, as has been the case in other UK orchestras. ETO’s current auditions call-out has no mention of an equality, diversity and inclusion statement, nor any suggestion of the organisation’s commitment to addressing barriers for underrepresented groups.

“We are talking to the members affected and taking immediate legal advice. I have also relayed to them what an overwhelming wave of support has come in from other members outside of ETO and the concerns of the MU’s Executive Committee and General Secretary. The MU is doing all it can to deal with the situation and dig into the decisions made by ETO.

“The MU strongly believes this decision is not about diversity and will set back diversity and inclusion agendas throughout the orchestral sector. Sacking half of the players clearly works against creating an inclusive environment for more diverse musicians. If ETO is really serious about recruiting a more diverse workforce, then their focus should be on creating an orchestra where musicians are valued, respected and encouraged to fully participate. Sacking half the workforce under the guise of ‘improving diversity’ is insincere and extremely bad practice.”