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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 14:03 GMT
RSC in strike threat
Nigel Hawthorne
Nigel Hawthorne performs King Lear at the Barbican
The Royal Shakespeare Company could struggle to put on shows in London next year if backstage staff vote to strike over rest breaks.

RSC Bectu union members at the Barbican centre in London are voting on whether to take action in a row with management over compensatory time off for overtime.

The dispute involves 69 technical and backstage staff including electricians, dressers and stagehands - all vital to any stage play.

The Barbican i
The Barbican is home to the RSC in London

The ballot closes on 8 January and if the majority vote to go on strike the RSC say it would be "very detrimental" to the company's shows at the Barbican next year.

Bectu is the independent union for people working in broadcasting, film, theatre and entertainment industry.

The union is angry over the RSC's interpretation of a 1998 agreement over the time-off owed to staff who break European rules on taking at least 11 hours rest between shifts.

The RSC bosses want staff to store up time owing and take it in blocks during quiet periods.

The union wants the RSC to allow staff to take time owed to them in parcels of four hours at regular intervals.

Discussions

A Bectu spokesman told BBC News Online: "The RSC owes our members a huge amount of time.

"Some have accrued several hundred hours of compensatory leave so for the RSC to quibble about how and when they take it is frankly disgusting."

Technical and production staff in the theatre often have to work long hours and into the night.

The 1998 agreement allowed the RSC management to break EU rules on the understanding that "meaningful time off" in busy periods would be allowed.

The European Working Time Regulations were introduced two years ago as part of European law.

An RSC spokeswoman told BBC News Online that the company was trying to find a peaceful solution to the dispute.

Negotiation

"In an environment like the theatre it is hard to get to grips with new EU working laws.

"However, we are doing our best through discussion and negotiation to find a solution," she said.

The RSC is one of the UK's leading theatre companies with main bases in Stratford-upon-Avon and at the Barbican.

At any one time, the RSC also has two companies of some 80 actors each, playing in five home theatres around the country.

The company puts on up to 30 productions each year.

Although Shakespeare is the central focus, the RSC also takes on a repertoire that ranges from classic European drama through to contemporary works.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | Business
National Theatre's poor performance
19 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Black actor cast as English king
14 Mar 00 | Wales
RSC's first night in Wales
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