Royal Shakespeare strike threat

BECTU plans a strike ballot after the RSC refused to delay a redundancy trawl.

Talks at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Stratford base collapsed today, July 4, when the management rejected a union call to extend a July 31 deadline for a redundancy volunteers' trawl

A meeting of more than 200 BECTU members at Stratford voted unanimously for strike action soon afterwards, and also supported a union bid to extract financial information about the job cuts from the company by making a legal complaint to the Central Arbitration Council.

Talks on large-scale redundancies at the RSC's Stratford and Barbican sites have been going on since the company announced major changes to its operations in May.

A plan to drop the fixed Shakespeare season at Stratford meant the closure of nearly 66% of technical jobs, said the company, while a change in the RSC's strategy in London threatened a complete shutdown at the Barbican.

At Stratford, BECTU aimed to prevent any compulsory redundancies, partly by limiting a planned increase in the use of casual staff. However, the company insisted on closing the call for volunteers on July 31, despite a union warning that this would force staff to make decisions before they knew what new jobs might be available in the cut-down workforce, and before the final redundancy payment package had been agreed.

BECTU is currently trying to improve the pay-off, which the company proposes should be 2.5 times the statutory redundancy formula of one week's money per year of service, with a limit of £240 per week.

This offer, according to the union, is much worse than previous redundancy agreements, where no cap has been imposed, and minimum payments have been included.

At the Barbican, RSC management have ruled out any chance of resettlement for redundant staff in West End theatres, although many RSC productions will play there. The union was excluded from discussions between the RSC the Barbican Centre itself, which will still function as a theatre after the RSC's move, and will need suitable staff.

BECTU members at the Barbican, who also face the July 31 closing date for redundancy volunteers, are due to meet within days, and are likely to follow colleagues in Stratford by calling for industrial action.

4 July 2001