Backstage staff from the Tina Turner musical have criticised its management for refusing to furlough them so they could be supported financially, claiming they are among the only West End workers not to have been put on the scheme.
Four former employees from the show, working in hair and make-up and wardrobe, were on fixed-term contracts that were due to come to an end, or had recently ended, when theatres across the UK shut on March 16.
The four backstage staff, supported by BECTU, claim they asked the show’s general manager, Mark Rubinstein, if they could be rehired and put on the furloughing scheme, having checked their eligibility for this.
According to the government, the furloughing scheme applies to employees who were on the payroll on February 28, and companies are able to rehire ex-employees who had left the job after this date in order to furlough them.
Dani Michalski, who worked in hair and make-up, ended her contract on February 28, and believes she is entitled to be rehired and furloughed. Three others - David Rees, Piotr Berkowicz and Sarah Melville, were due to end their contracts on March 21, a week after theatres shut.
However, the four Tina staff have been told it will not be possible to rehire them, as this would once again make them an employee of Tina Turner Musical Ltd, which in turn would “create a series of obligations and costs that the production is not in a position to absorb”.
In an email to Michalski, Mark Rubinstein Ltd said rehiring would “create financial and contractual conditions on the production well beyond the furlough scheme”.
Michalski worked on the musical from the beginning and said she and the others concerned had agreed to waive any additional rights that they may be entitled to by being rehired, and that they just wanted to be furloughed so they could be supported financially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They have blocked me from the only scheme I am eligible for. I have applied for Universal Credit but don’t find out until May 24 what I am eligible for. I have a mortgage to pay and we all need to speak up, because they should be doing the right thing, which is going with the government schemes,” she said.
Rees, who was a dresser for the show, said he felt a “real disappointment” at not being furloughed.
“I am a tiny part of the show but I was so proud to work on it. It was a world premiere and an amazing experience but I feel I have been left out in the cold,” he said, adding: “A show feels like a community and a family but in the time of need to be shut out completely feels very upsetting.”
Melville was also a dresser on the show, and said she had been forced to sell her car.
“I’ve sold my car to get extra money. We have a mortgage payment coming out in three weeks and I am spending the day ringing around trying to get a job. It’s really stressful and I have had anxiety attacks. I don’t think it’s fair we have been left out,” she said.
Berkowicz, who was head of hair and make-up, described it as “disappointing that although there is help, and they are in a position to help us, there is nothing they will do”.
BECTU head Philippa Childs said the union had “worked incredibly hard with theatres across the West End to ensure that the majority of our membership has been furloughed”.
“Many employers have been exemplary in their willingness to look for every means possible to furlough staff, exploring every option available under the government scheme including topping up wages, to preserve each and every member of staff, past and present. These employers recognise that their workforce are facing extraordinary challenges and that the industry must come together for its future,” she said.
She added: “This thinking includes being able to retain talent and experience who will be in a position to return to work when the industry starts to open up again. It is always disappointing to find exceptions who fail to participate in the collective long-term vision for the industry.
"However, employers still have an opportunity to furlough workers, as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has, quite rightly, been extended until October.”
Tina - the Tina Turner Musical is produced by Stage Entertainment but general-managed by Mark Rubinstein Ltd.
Both companies have been approached for comment.