The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance has accused Opera Australia of “acting unconscionably” in a statement released today that claims the organisation is axing a quarter of its workforce, which the union has described as “a disgrace”. Opera Australia, however, has responded that it is “disappointed” by the MEAA’s public comments, claiming they include inaccuracies. Opera Australia flagged imminent redundancies last month as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the sale of its Alexandria warehouse.

AttillaOpera Australia’s production of Attila. Photo © Prudence Upton

“This is a terrible decision by Opera Australia’s management and its board,” said Paul Davies, the director of MEAA’s Musicians section, who called on Arts Minister Paul Fletcher to intervene to save jobs by supporting the company.

Davies said in the statement that it was understood that the cuts “would be made to every department of the company, including musicians, chorus performers and technical and staging crew”.

“These workers have been loyal employees of OA for many years and have already taken a temporary pay cut to help the company through the crisis caused by COVID-19,” Davies said. “Now at the worst possible time, their loyalty has been repaid with a brutal round of forced redundancies and they find themselves unemployed in the middle of the worst recession since the Second World War.”

“Management has shown complete contempt for its workforce, engaging in a sham consultation process and deliberately targeting individual musicians to be sacked,” he said. “This disgraceful behaviour was on show last week when at one presentation given to OA staff, chaired by Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, employees were not permitted to ask questions or comment.”

Davies also said that questions directed to OA management by the MEAA have not been answered and OA is refusing to consult directly with the union against the wishes of staff.

“The result of all this will be that OA will be diminished in size, its capacity to deliver quality productions and its credibility,” Davies said. “That this comes in the middle of a pandemic when the company is in receipt of JobKeeper subsidies that have only yesterday been extended until March 2021 makes it even more unconscionable.”

A spokesperson for Opera Australia told Limelight that the 25 percent figure refers to administration staff only, and that consultations are currently happening with employees in the rest of the organisation, with MEAA as their representatives, and that the next meeting with the union is scheduled for tomorrow.

“Opera Australia is disappointed with the public comments made by the MEAA, many of which are inaccurate, but out of consideration and respect for our employees we do not intend to engage in these discussions in a public arena,” Opera Australia CEO Rory Jeffes said in a statement. “These workplace changes are necessary as a response to the continuing coronavirus crisis. We have included the MEAA in this journey with our employees which has only just commenced, as we genuinely consult with them about what these changes may mean, with further meetings already scheduled with both our employees and the MEAA tomorrow to address questions and consult further.”

“The difficulties and anxieties faced by everyone during this process are something that we are very conscious of,” he said. “This is not easy and many of the conversations we have been compelled to undertake have been incredibly hard. As we have explained in our initial meetings with both our employees and the MEAA, they are driven by the need to implement mitigation measures to address the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure OA remains a viable organisation.”

“I want to once again reiterate that none of these steps have been entered into lightly or without the utmost consideration, for our employees, our company and for opera itself,” Jeffes said. “We remain committed to the open and direct consultation process with our valued employees and with MEAA.”