ENO faces strike over pay - without musical director

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The troubled English National Opera is to begin the new year facing a strike by more than half of its staff and without a music director.

Members of the union Bectu, who work in the technical, managerial and administrative departments at the Coliseum, the ENO's London home, have voted by a massive majority - 94.6 per cent of those who voted - in favour of industrial action over its pay claim.

While there are no operas, only ballets, on stage until late January, strikes would hit rehearsals for new productions as well as the resumption of operatic performances from 3 February.

Meanwhile, Oleg Caetani, who was due to take up his appointment as music director shortly, is to renounce the position, and a search for an alternative candidate will begin next month.

The company is already reeling from the ousting of Sean Doran, chief executive and artistic director, after less than two years in the post, and the subsequent resignation of Martin Smith, board chairman.

Announcing the ballot result yesterday, Bectu staff said the decision had not been taken lightly but followed months of "frustrating negotiation" culminating in a "derisory" pay offer of 2.77 per cent.

Tony Norton, national officer, said staff had worked extremely hard in the past five years to keep the ENO afloat. They had responded positively to constant management pleas for restraint on pay "with the promise of better times ahead" once refurbishment work was complete.

But he said: "This latest offer on pay is the final insult for a long-suffering dedicated workforce who deserve far more recognition than they currently receive."

Gerry Morrissey, assistant general secretary, added: "The ballot result indicates the level of dissatisfaction the staff have with the board.

"Instead of uniting the organisation after the recent departure of the chairman and chief executive, they have chosen confrontation with the union over pay."

Meanwhile, Mr Caetani is to become an ENO guest conductor instead of music director, in a move which may satisfy critics who believe the company needs a full-time leader.

When Mr Caetani, 48, was appointed last February, concerns were raised about his commitment to spending three months a year in Melbourne, Australia, where he is chief conductor and artistic director of the symphony orchestra.

In a statement issued yesterday, the ENO said that he had met Loretta Tomasi, the new chief executive, and John Berry, artistic director, "to review ENO's organisation structure and future direction in the light of recent changes. As a result of these discussions, they have jointly agreed that Oleg Caetani will not be taking up the position of music director but will maintain an ongoing relationship with ENO as guest conductor."

He had not signed a contract so no severance package will be paid.