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Corrie star wins legal battle against NI Opera with ‘UK-wide ramifications for performers’ pay

Kerri Quinn in The Threepenny Opera at Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Photo: Christopher Heaney

Northern Ireland Opera has lost a tribunal brought against it by actors including Coronation Street’s Kerri Quinn, which revolved around performers’ rights to holiday pay.

The actors hope the ruling – which sees the the organisation ordered to award them holiday pay – will have consequences for other theatre companies in Northern Ireland and beyond that don’t already add holiday pay entitlement to actors’ fees.

Northern Ireland Opera also admitted the ruling, which has ordered the organisation to pay holiday pay to two actors, could have UK-wide “ramifications”.

Quinn and fellow actor Gerard McCabe performed with the opera company last year on a production of The Threepenny Opera.

The Threepenny Opera review at Lyric Theatre, Belfast – ‘visually arresting’ [1]

However, their fee did not include any element of holiday pay, which they claimed they were entitled to.

The case hinged on the fact the claimants argued they should be regarded as workers, rather than self-employed, which they are for tax purposes.

McCabe’s contract with the opera company stated it was his responsibility to ensure he was “registered as self-employed” for tax purposes, while Quinn’s had a similar clause.

In its ruling, the tribunal, held in Belfast in November last year, said the actors had been “employees working under contracts of employment for the relevant six-week period”.

It added that, while the contracts made provisions relating to the actors being self-employed for tax purposes, they “did not attempt to set out any wide ranging agreement that a self-employed status applied in other respects”. It said they were not “free agents to work as and whey they choose, as are self employed people”.

The tribunal concluded the actors were workers at the relevant times, and “therefore entitled to be paid holiday pay and to recover unpaid holiday pay”.

Quinn was awarded £374.68, with McCabe awarded £348.84.

McCabe told The Stage: “In Northern Ireland, there are a lot of companies that don’t pay holiday pay. We have always been told it’s not a legal requirement… Other companies in Northern Ireland think they don’t have to pay it, but now we have a court case that says it’s a legal requirement.”

Equity national officer for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Lorne Boswell, described it as a “comprehensive ruling”.

“We have to wait to see if they will appeal,” he said.

“Provided it remains upheld we will be contacting all the relevant theatres we are responsible for and will be happy to share with them the ruling from the judge, to make sure they understand holiday pay should be paid in these circumstances.”

A spokesman for Northern Ireland Opera said: “If the tribunal decision is upheld there could be a number of ramifications for the sector, but since the board of Northern Ireland Opera is currently discussing the matter it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further at this point.”