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Chorus strike row deepens as ENO reveals ‘grave risk of bankruptcy’

ENO's home at the London Coliseum. ENO's home at the London Coliseum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke
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English National Opera has warned that it faces going bankrupt if it does not push ahead with proposals to change chorus members’ contracts.

The warning comes as board members at ENO are being called on to resign from their posts if they do not agree that the venue needs a full-time chorus.

In a joint letter to the board, unions Equity, the Musicians’ Union and BECTU state that current proposals to move the chorus and other staff members to seasonal contracts would “seriously hamper” the operation of the company.

“We believe that you will lose the individuals necessary to make opera production a success, and the flexibility for a new artistic director to produce either more operas at the Coliseum of alternative artistic programmes in the summer,” the letter says.

It adds that proposals to move staff to seasonal contracts had been made while the company is without an artistic director, which it describes as “particularly worrying”.

The letter claims an artistic director would “know exactly what artistic infrastructure is needed to make the ENO a success in the future”.

“It is indeed substantially weakening the artistic material available to the director and, in all likelihood, will be a stumbling block for the appointment of the type of artistic director the company needs,” it says.

The letter concludes that the company should retain a “full-time opera company employing full-time staff” and adds: “We call on any board member who does not want to see this to resign.”

ENO responded by saying it would face bankruptcy if it did not implement the changes.

A spokesman said: “We are confident that the plans put forward to BECTU, Equity and the MU are essential to ensure the future of ENO. Without a fundamental shift in our business plan, and a move towards seasonal contracts for some employees, we put the future of the company at grave risk of bankruptcy.”

He added that without the changes it risked “the livelihoods of many more ENO employees in years to come”.

“We have explored every option available to us when proposing a new business model for ENO. We feel that the proposed plans safeguard the maximum number of jobs, and place the organisation in the best position to thrive in the future,” he said.

Chorus members at ENO are due to strike over the dispute on March 18.

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