The EvilImp™ 'The Chicken Switch'

It's a well known fact that the worst thing you can do in politics is tell the truth. Even though people more often than not demand honesty the voices opposed to that honesty always seem to be the loudest.

A few days ago the Equity Dance website released a statement that basically condemned the Royal Opera House in London when, once again, they offered jobs to professional dancers in one of their opera productions with a pay rate of just £358.73 per week.

The Royal Opera House receives over £24Million annually in public subsidy from Arts Council England.

The Equity Dance statement stated the simple truth. Professional dancers were being paid an hourly rate below that of the box office staff working in the same building. The people answering the phones selling very expensive tickets were being paid more money than the skilled, trained, professional dancers who would be performing on the stage.

The statement read (in part);

"We see that the weekly rate during rehearsals calculates to an hourly rate of just £9.14 an hour, which when compared to the rate of £10.70 per hour you offer to Box Office Sales Assistants (advertised April 2014), this seems highly disproportionate"

Equity Dance simply told the truth but the main Equity union didn't like that one little bit. As the story, somewhat surprisingly, hit the mainstream press outlets the statement vanished into to thin air even though it was being widely quoted in the press.

The Guardian quoted one Hilary Hadley from Equity stating;

"...Unfortunately this request was made more public than was our intention and dancers' concerns have been picked up by the press. We regret this as we do not want to harm our good relations with the ROH and the negotiation process"

Equity engages in a negotiation "process"? How does that process go exactly: ROH - "The dancers are getting £358.73 per week, okay!", Equity - "Yes sir and thank you for your time, sorry if we got any dirt on your carpets!"

Ms Hadley has come onto our radar before, here in TheLab™. She was the one defending the English National Opera when they were paying professional dancers £327 per week for their involvement in a production of 'The Death of Klinghoffer' that we highlighted two years ago in our piece 'The United States of Nobody Gives a Sh*t'

At the time Ms Hadley seemed to be completely unaware that ENO was sitting on millions of pounds in budget surplus so the reasons for the pathetically low pay level for the dancers was not a financial one. It is also decidedly inconvenient for Equity that the contracts with both the ENO two years ago and the Royal Opera House today were negotiated by Equity themselves.

The union that is supposed to protect the artists is doing nothing of the sort. In fact they are actually apologising to the very people who are demonstrably guilty of treating professional dancers like so much set dressing by stating;

"It was not our intention to antagonise the Royal Opera House."

Pay Your Dues

In their statements to the Guardian and on their website Equity appears to care not one bit about antagonising the professional dancers they are supposed to represent. The whole debacle is a communications disaster for a union that is trying to get more dancers to join their ranks and pay their dues.

Why would any dancer consider being a part of a union that so blatantly grovels at the feet of a major arts organisation that is demonstrably in the wrong?

Why would any dancer consider being a part of a union that apologises for releasing a statement that told the truth?

Equity can bleat all they want about harming the negotiation process but what does that matter when Equity is very obviously terrible at negotiating? They can't even negotiate their own minimum wage for dancers set at the still too low rate of £430 per week.

It is abundantly clear that Equity doesn't understand what a union is supposed to be. Unions need to be ball-busters when the circumstances call for it. They don't shriek in horror when they get national press attention highlighting an issue that is nothing short of an embarrassment to the entire culture profession in the UK.

When it comes to wages Equity is weak and almost completely irrelevant in the wide world of dance. They either need a better strategy or they need a better team to devise a better strategy. Either way, something's got to give.

[ The Guardian ]

photo by Paolo Margari

  • IanIanIan

    Can we have some follow up from this? What do either party have to say about this?

  • rgfm

    Equity are still waiting for a formal response from ROH. The meeting was apparently 'reasonably positive', but budget and policy of an organisation can't change overnight sadly. So Equity will post an update when there is more information to give.
    ..not sure where all the speculation came from A19, Chantal?

  • Er, the "speculation" came from being told that ROH were due to reply to Equity on a specific date?

    Or by "all the speculation", do you mean the entire underpaid dance industry waiting to see what the outcome will be?

  • rgfm

    people were told there would be a meeting not a reply on a specific date... like I say ^ it cant happen overnight.. so we are all waiting, and Equity can only update when there is info to give.

  • Well, in that case, some people were told that there would be a reply on a specific date, and others were not. Just because you weren't one of them doesn't make other people's information wrong. But then, there's been enough ranting on here about who's right and who's wrong. As Article19 said 12 days ago....

  • rgfm

    Indeed.. I just wanted IanIanIan to get an accurate answer to his question.

  • can't follow up sadly because it's all a secret. equity won't talk because it's all kinda embarrassing for them, same goes for the ROH.

  • IanIanIan

    ??? Really? So we dont know if there was a negotiation or not? Or what the resolution might be? :(

  • rgfm

    The negotiation meeting between Equity and ROH took place on 17 Nov, Equity made their case for dancers as was widely reported in national media, and they are still waiting for ROH's formal response to this before they can make any details public.

  • Apparently there was going to be some big news yesterday, as that's when ROH was due to reply to Equity. We have but silence instead from all contenders.

  • rgfm

    Sorry, but this is the most ridiculous article of yours I've read... Completely inaccurate, and the fact that your paying to advertise it on Facebook just reeks of desperation.

  • So, a publication is "desperate" for advertising content? We publish material so that people will read it and to help get people to read it we promote it, sometimes using money. Is a dance company "desperate" for promoting their performances?

    Do enlighten us as to the "inaccuracies" and we will be happy to amend or correct.

    There's a phone number, over there on the right, you can even call us to discuss the issues you have with this piece.

  • As this is an issue which affects so many in the industry, I think rgfm should explain his/her arguments here so we can see what's wrong and inaccurate about this article, and with dancers deserving a similar pay to, say, the musicians receiving £36-£54/hour in his/her comment over in the Telegraph. *puts kettle on*

  • rgfm

    erm because Equity are clearly the only ones actually doing anything to improve the pay rates here.. dancers aren't, Article19 aren't..

    "Unions need to be ball-busters.." this isn't the 80's and we're not miners..

    "Equity is weak and almost completely irrelevant in the wide world of dance.." and they always will be if dancers don't join and aren't active

    "Equity can bleat all they want about harming the negotiation process but what does that matter..." what does that matter? erm isn't that why we're here.. to get a better negotiation..?

    "blatantly grovels at the feet of a major arts organisation..." they make professional negotiations in a society where you still have to work hard to justify arts spending.. they dont go round spitting their dummy out asking for more money and expecting that to get results.

    "Equity appears to care not one bit about antagonising the professional dancers they are supposed to represent.." and yet this year they launched an entirely new initiative to better represent the needs of professional dancers.. http://equitydance.org/

    "The union that is supposed to protect the artists is doing nothing of the sort.." so how did they even get a negotiation meeting for an un-unionised group of freelancers?

  • you really need to stop....

    The dancers that went to the press to complain about the pay rates on an Equity contract at ENO did quite a lot to draw attention to the matter.

    Dancers have no reason to trust Equity on pay when Equity negotiates terrible rates and it's no good saying if they pay Equity membership fees things will get better. Prove it.

    "they make professional negotiations in a society where you still have to work hard to justify arts spending.. they dont go round spitting their dummy out asking for more money and expecting that to get results."

    ROH isn't paying crap wages because they are worried about justifying arts spending. If that was the case Antonio Popano wouldn't be making £600,000 per year. And way to go trying to get dancers on your side with the dummy spitting comment.

    Equity got a meeting.... well, ok, you got us there!

    As for Article19 not doing anything to raise dancer's pay. The press raises awareness. Long before the Telegraph and The Guardian stuck their oar in we were talking about dancers pay and have been doing that for years.

    weak sauce!

  • rgfm

    ..I don't know what world you're living in if you think aggression is the only way to negotiate improvements..

  • On a scale of one to Bob Crow... ?

  • Movementmonkey

    What is it you find aggressive, ridiculous and inaccurate? A bit antagonistic? Yes. Not tippy-toeing around the issue? Yes. Interested to put an end to people in receipt of funds from the public purse and in positions of relative power expoiting freelancers? Yes.

  • and we don't know what world you're living in where you think that apologising to people who kick you in the ribs is the way to get things done. Also, if you think this piece is aggressive then you don't know what you're talking about!

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