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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Opera chorus told of job losses
Scottish Opera chorus members
Scottish Opera chorus members staged a protest
Scottish Opera has sparked anger after all 34 members of its chorus were told that they were being made redundant only minutes before they went on stage.

The staff were officially told about the decision ahead of a performance of La Boheme in Edinburgh on Thursday.

A spokesman for performers' union Equity said the move was "crass and insensitive", while audience members said it was "scandalous".

The move follows plans for radical restructuring of Scottish Opera.

The financial rescue package was outlined in a joint statement from the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Opera last week.

Restructuring plan

A total of 88 posts are to be cut from the workforce of just over 200, and include technical and administrative staff as well as the chorus.

The process of restructuring is planned to be completed by June 2005, to be followed by nine months with no full-scale productions.

Minutes before a performance of La Boheme at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh the chorus were told officially for the first time they would all be losing their jobs.

There are other ways that this could have been handled and I think this is just indicative of the way Scottish Opera treats its internal relations
Lorne Boswell
The move has angered their union Equity, which has pledged to fight the job losses.

Spokeswoman Lorne Boswell said the redundancies themselves were no shock as the leaked plans had featured in media reports since the start of the year.

"It was crass and insensitive to tell them 10 minutes before they were due on stage," he said.

"I think there are other ways that this could have been handled and I think this is just indicative of the way Scottish Opera treats its internal relations."

He said some members of the chorus were "absolutely devastated" by the news.

"This was the moment that they dreaded. This was the moment when their line manager stood in front of them and said we are making you redundant.

Gone adrift

"They went ahead and did their job as the professionals they are, but it didn't make it any easier."

One audience member said their performance had been "wonderful" in Edinburgh.

"Considering they just had that news they were amazing. I hope that some of these decisions are reversed," she said.

Scottish Opera office
Scottish Opera has suffered funding problems
Another man said: "It is absolutely scandalous. Something has obviously gone adrift in somebody's thinking somewhere, because this is a wonderful company."

Equity had been told of the plans on Tuesday, but had not contacted its members.

Mr Boswell said you could not prepare someone for the moment when they were told that they were losing their job.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Opera said there was no right time to announce redundancies.

She said the chorus master had done his best to give the news to the full chorus before they read about it in the press.

A Scottish Executive spokesperson said it was an operational matter for Scottish Opera.

The Scottish Tories culture spokesman, Jamie McGrigor, said: "I hope this demonstration has pricked the consciences of the first minister and Frank McAveety.

Pledge support

"Unfortunately, because of Messrs McConnell and McAveety, the chorus may be made redundant.

"One only had to listen to the superb demonstration of musical talent that attracted a large crowd on the Royal Mile to see the excellence that is being threatened."

Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan condemned the sackings saying it was a "disgraceful way to treat workers".

He added: "The Scottish Socialists have pledged our support to the campaign of the Scottish Opera chorus for their jobs.

"It is completely unacceptable that trade union members are being sacked by a publicly funded body with a Labour minister in control of the purse strings.

"Yet again trade unionists can see for themselves that New Labour cares nothing for the rights of workers."

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