MEAA working with Opera Australia to ensure redundancies are ‘justified’

The finger of blame has been pointed at the Federal Government, with redundancies the result of ‘delayed, limited and arbitrary industry support measures’ according to MEAA.

Opera Australia has announced an organisational restructure including redundancies, and the sale of its Alexandria warehouse in order to secure the company’s future, following the devastating impact of COVID-19.

With numerous Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) members employed at Opera Australia, the union is now involved in discussions with company management – though a MEAA spokesperson has suggested any redundancies are really the fault of the Federal Government.

Given that over 50% of Opera Australia’s income is generated through ticket sales, and with productions cancelled from March onwards, including a much-anticipated digital Ring Cycle, the company is expected to post a multi-million-dollar loss for 2020.

Consequently the company has announced an organisational restructure intended to reduce overall operating costs, according to Opera Australia CEO Rory Jeffes.

‘We must restructure to establish a new organisational framework and operating model that provides agility to adapt to the new and volatile operating environment. This includes streamlining our organisational structure to create efficiencies, reduce cost and align to a new, more flexible operating model,’ Jeffes told staff in an internal letter circulated last Friday.

‘Sadly, as part of this restructure, we have identified a number of roles that will no longer be required. These roles will be spread right across the Company, and we will commence consultation with those who may be affected by the restructure next week.’

With a number of redundancies on the cards, Opera Australia said it was working with MEAA in order to ensure ‘the greatest number of our talented and valued team are able to continue to tell our stories on stage, while also making lasting changes to ensure the ongoing viability of the organisation.’

‘Sadly, as part of this restructure, we have identified a number of roles that will no longer be required.’

– CEO Rory Jeffes

ArtsHub understands there are approximately 150 MEAA members at Opera Australia across a range of roles.

A MEAA spokesperson told ArtsHub: ‘Following the announcement of the restructure, we have made contact with senior management seeking formal consultation and engaged with the workforce there.

‘We want to ensure that any changes taken forward by OA are justified and do not compromise the company and its ability to deliver world class performances,’ the spokesperson said.

Opera Australia has also announced the sale of its Alexandria warehouse, currently used to store props and costumes, to help offset its 2020 losses.

‘As many of you will know,’ Jeffes’ letter to staff said, ‘we sold our Melbourne property several years ago to provide a financial buffer against the feared disruption to Opera Australia of the renewal project at the Joan Sutherland Theatre in 2017. Those funds are what has made it possible to support staff through the pandemic to date, but are finite, and now expended. We are now actively pursuing the sale of our Alexandria warehouse with the aim of providing the funds to support Opera Australia through the recovery from this crisis, whilst not knowing how long this will be.’

Opera Australia staff were stood down in March, with Jobkeeper payments assisting in keeping wages flowing – though not before orchestra members were initially forced to protest over being suspended without pay. Executive staff are among those whose salaries have been reduced during this time, The Australian reports.

Read: Casuals on the front line as coronavirus cancellations spread

MEAA laid the blame for the upcoming redundancies at Opera Australia squarely at the feet of the Federal Government.

‘The restructure is representative of the effect of delayed, limited and arbitrary industry support measures from the Federal Government,’ the MEAA spokesperson told ArtsHub.

‘The arts workers affected by these cuts are not “arts elites”, but skilled professionals who make this sector hugely productive, providing important social and cultural services to the Australian community.

‘As the impact of COVID-19 and live performance shutdowns drags on, leading to the cancellation of their seasons by almost all Australia’s major performing arts companies, this is a testing time for the arts sector, with companies and audiences uncertain about the future.

‘It is beyond time for the Government to move to directly shore-up critical companies like Opera Australia to avoid hardships for the company and the audiences its serves,’ the spokesperson concluded.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts