Union attacks Royal Court over pay rates

Theatre disputes: Top left-wing company and RSC accused of threatening minimum pay deal and lack of consultation over move
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The Independent Culture
The Royal Court, Britain's most progressive theatre, is being attacked by theatre union officials for advertising jobs at wages below what they say is the minimum union rate.

The union Bectu, which represents backstage and front-of-house staff, claims that the Royal Court is offering some usher staff pounds 12.50 for a shift of just under four hours.

The problem has arisen with the theatre moving into a new temporary home at the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End, London, while its own theatre in Sloane Square is rebuilt with the help of pounds 16m from the National Lottery.

Bectu's national officer, Willy Donaghy, said of the proposed wages: "The theatre is offering some front-of-house staff just pounds 12.50 for a three- hour 45-minute shift at the new temporary venue, undercutting the pounds 14.67 rate agreed by Bectu and the Society of London Theatre. We will do everything within our means to stop the Royal Court from undermining this agreement. This doesn't bode well for the theatre's stay at the Duke of York's."

The dispute could become an embarrassment for the Royal Court. It is not only the traditional champion of left-wing and progressive writing dating back to John Osborne's Look Back In Anger, it is also headed by artistic director Stephen Daldry, who is one of the most outspoken political firebrands in the arts and has fired public broadsides at the Tory government on a number of occasions.

Next week the Royal Court stages the premiere of the latest work by another of theatre's political animals, Harold Pinter.

A Royal Court spokeswoman said yesterday that the rate the theatre was offering some staff may be below the West End rate but was the same as that paid by the Royal Court at Sloane Square. "The Duke of York's is being leased to us for two years," she said. "We are going into it as the Royal Court and we are paying everybody as we, the Royal Court, pay them. We may have all this lottery money, but we are, as ever, poverty stricken. You can be a lottery millionaire but still totally broke. Our money for productions and for paying staff is minimal."

The Royal Court's arrangements for while the Sloane Square theatre is being rebuilt involve using two West End theatres - the Duke of York's for its main house productions and the Ambassador's Theatre for its smaller- scale performances.

Bectu is also at loggerheads with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where the union has threatened strike action over what it calls the RSC's "poorly thought out plan" to move out of its London home in the Barbican Centre for part of the year.