The Royal Opera House has confirmed it has made its entire roster of casual staff redundant, with plans for further cuts looming, in order to survive Covid-19.
Employees have pleaded with bosses at Covent Garden to save their jobs, however chief executive Alex Beard said that despite announcements of "vital" government funding, "the financial pressures caused by the pandemic are such that significant cost reduction is needed".
The total number of jobs affected is yet to emerge, but the organisation confirmed that all casual contracts have been terminated and a process of voluntary redundancies among other staff is already underway.
The ROH also said it would shortly have to begin compulsory consultations affecting permanent staff as it fights to secure its future.
Beard told The Stage: "The Royal Opera House has begun the process of restructuring its staff teams. The scale of financial pressure on the ROH, alongside the continued restrictions on our ability to perform to live audiences, has resulted in this very difficult and sad decision. The process has started with a call for voluntary redundancies and the termination of all casual contracts, with a consultation on proposals for changes affecting permanent members of staff due to commence shortly."
Beard said consultations would continue throughout the summer, with input from trade unions, adding: "This is a very sad time for the organisation as a whole, and I would like to thank all staff for their valued commitment and dedication to the Royal Opera House."
The Stage understands that the ROH employs several hundred casual staff across a number of departments, including large numbers on technical teams and in areas such as wardrobe.
Shawn McCrory, who works as a casual stage technician at the ROH, said he had been informed his wages would stop from the end of July, when employers must begin making furlough contributions.
He said he and colleagues in a similar situation had relied on furlough payments to get by, as he is ineligible for the self-employed income support scheme due to earning more than half his income from the ROH.
McCrory wrote to Beard urging him to reconsider his decision to lay off casual staff members, who he said are vital to the organisation’s day-to-day operation.
"In a given year, for every full-time technician, the House requires about seven weeks of casual employment, to cover holiday, sick days, training and lieu days. That does not take into account tours, and long-term absences or jobs that have not been filled. We are integral to the successful running of the operation of the Opera House and its productions," he said, arguing that the cost of maintaining casual staff is far lower than pay for permanent employees.
McCrory said that while he understands "money has to be stretched far", he has trouble seeing how "this small outlay (in comparison with other expenditures) for ’valued’ employees" could not be protected.
McCrory told The Stage that Beard had responded to his letter – sent via email – within hours of receiving it, to inform him that continued support would not be possible.
He said he felt "quite fobbed off" by the response, and that the contribution of staff on casual contracts was being ignored.
Head of BECTU, Philippa Childs, confirmed the union had been in "regular dialogue" with ROH during lockdown and has "reiterated the importance of retaining skilled and experienced staff across the entire organisation.
“We are very aware that venues still have no income, and no prospect of ticket sales for the foreseeable future but the government has announced a bailout package for theatre and the arts and on that basis we have urged the Royal Opera House to pause its redundancy and restructuring proposals.
“However, the complete lack of clarity on what the support might be, whether it will be a grant or a loan and when it might come through, means that staff will suffer a direct and devastating impact and the ROH is pressing ahead," she said, urging for more clarity from government.
"Every day of delay is causing more damage and deepening the crisis," she added.
The National Theatre in London has also signalled its intention to proceed with around 400 redundancies among its casual staff base, including 250 front-of-house workers.