Sixteen musicians in the Opera Australia Orchestra were informed that they have been made redundant on Friday, while another 13 vacancies will remain unfilled. The company flagged imminent redundancies as well as the sale of its Alexandria warehouse in August, in order to reduce costs after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out ticket revenue.
Opera Australia musicians protesting redundancies in front of the Sydney Opera House
Redundancies are being made across the company, including chorus and technical staff, with a spokesperson for Opera Australia confirming to Limelight earlier this month that 25 percent of administrative staff were being made redundant.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union representing the OA musicians, has condemned the cuts. “The redundancies will reduce the company to a shell,” Director of MEAA Musicians Paul Davies told Limelight. “We understand the terrifically difficult situation of the company and have offered repeatedly to negotiate an emergency measures agreement with OA to help see them through, as we have done with SSO and MSO.”
“It is extremely troubling that they have rejected this offer and have instead sacked workers essential to the company, without providing evidence about why individuals have been ‘selected’, nor an opportunity for them to address this evidence,” Davies said. “In taking this action, they have rejected the ongoing support of JobKeeper for these employees, at the height of a pandemic and the biggest recession in 100 years.”
“This is compounded by their declared intention of applying to terminate the collective agreements of staff,” he said. “The details of the new operating model have not been provided to explain or provide any rationale for these cruel and counter-productive decisions.”
Davies said the MEAA is yet to hear if and when the company has sought access to any of the relief funding offered by state and federal governments. “Their refusal to answer this and other questions in any detail, makes us wonder if [OA Artistic Director Lyndon] Terracini is using the pandemic as an excuse to autocratically impose his will on the company and its employees,” he said. “It appears as if Lyndon Teraccini is intent on creating some new form of performing arts company, based on casualised employment, and which it would be difficult to describe as an opera company, given the cuts to artistic and technical capacity that he has imposed.”
According to Davies, the MEAA is calling on the CEO and the Board of Opera Australia to intervene to change course.
“These are incredibly difficult times and Opera Australia is very aware the decisions being made will have devastating consequences for many of its employees. However, it’s essential that we streamline the organisation in order to ensure its survival and in turn secure the jobs of countless artists and artisans for future years,” OA CEO Rory Jeffes told Limelight. “Hard choices are needing to be made, but the survival of the Company and the many, many jobs that go with it, is at stake. Not just for the next six months but for many years to come while Australia and the world transitions to the new normal in, what will hopefully be, a post-pandemic era.”
“It will be a world where people’s health and wellbeing will be at the forefront of everything we do and the Company is determined that artistic excellence remains at the core of our being. Every decision we make, every performance we do, will need to have a COVID-safe foundation,” he said. “This is a difficult journey for the entire OA family that has really only just begun and we are making great endeavours to bring our employees along every step of the way as a united group with a focus of keeping one of Australia’s finest performing arts companies and the traditions it upholds, alive.”
Meanwhile a petition calling on Paul Fletcher – the Federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts – to step in and save jobs at Opera Australia has garnered over 9,000 signatures.