Fair Wage On Stage

Our campaign for a fair wage on stage at the English National Opera.

Equity members picketing outside the English National Opera's offices

Settlement reached with the English National Opera for the chorus

Equity is able to confirm that following review of all details, we have reached settlement with English National Opera and have cancelled proposed industrial action for Equity members in the ENO Chorus.


The issue

In 2022 Arts Council England (ACE) announced a devastating 100% cut to funding for the English National Opera (ENO) and plans to close its London base, putting over 300 jobs at risk.

But Equity members, along with other unions and supporters, fought back.

Following petitions, demonstrations, international news coverage, securing backing from the London Assembly and the lobbying of Parliament by our members – ACE U-turned and interim funding for the institution and protection of the ENO London base was secured.

However, instead of being rewarded for their efforts, the permanent workforce at the ENO, some of whom have moved from across the UK to work at the institution, are now facing 40% cuts to their pay. They are also not being given any guarantee of work at the new ENO Manchester base nor assurances that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

The ENO is also seeking detrimental changes to chorus contracts which would worsen their terms of employment at the same time as they experience a catastrophic drop in their income.

Upcoming industrial action - Now suspended

Despite the best efforts of Equity‘s members at ENO, negotiations have not progressed sufficiently. Equity members in the ENO chorus have now voted yes in a ballot on whether to take strike action. The ballot opened on Thursday 4 January and closed on Tuesday 16 January.

  • The turnout among ENO chorus members was 94.11%
  • 100% voted ’yes’ to full strike action
  • 100% voted ‘yes’ to take action short of a strike

The chorus are joined by the ENO orchestra, who are represented by the Musicians Union and who have also voted yes to industrial action. The first day of strike action for both unions is planned for 1st February. This date coincides with the opening night of the ENO’s production of The Handmaid’s Tale.

However, we hope that this can be averted through negotiations with ENO management and a dignified agreement that protects the pay, terms and conditions of chorus members.

“It gives me no pleasure to vote for strike action – I joined the ENO Chorus to sing, and to share opera with as many people as possible. Management’s proposals to fire and rehire me and my colleagues with a 40% salary cut and worsened working conditions will make remaining in the chorus unsustainable for many. I voted yes to taking strike action to force our management to reconsider their plans and come up with a different, more creative model that protects the workforce.”

Our Demands

We demand that the ENO chorus are guaranteed:

  • No compulsory redundancies.
  • A seven-month permanent contract, with paid holiday to be taken in addition to the seven months.
  • First refusal of any work in Manchester, on union negotiated terms and conditions.
  • No worsening of terms to the current chorus house agreement.
  • An annual vocal maintenance payment to cover singing lessons, coaching and support with vocal health when the chorus are not working on ENO shows.
  • A regular weekday off each week, enabling the chorus to plan for other work.

“For years, my colleagues in the ENO chorus have dedicated their professional lives to bringing the best and most accessible opera to the widest and most diverse audiences possible. We are truly excited about an additional ENO base being located in Manchester but heartbroken there are no concrete plans to take the performing workforce there and share great ENO experiences with audiences in the North West. In addition, ENO are reducing the chorus contract to just six months and offering a wage which will be unsustainable for work in central London.

On a personal level I am devastated to think that, being born in Manchester and having had to come to London to fulfil my dream of being an opera singer, the chance for me to go back and inspire other Mancunians to consider working in the performing arts is lost because of these ill thought out plans. The government’s ambition to “Level Up” will in fact lead to less opportunity to access opera unless you are of means. We don’t want to have to ballot for industrial action, all we want is a ‘Fair wage on Stage’.”

David John-Newman, ENO Chorus member and workplace representative for Equity