Joe Arnold

Four reasons why musicians need unions

Musicians’ Union rep Joe Arnold – bass trombone player with the Orchestra of English National Opera (ENO) – reveals the top issues facing orchestra players at work.

1 –Renegotiating contracts

Every year, we renegotiate specific aspects ofour terms and conditions with the ENO as we work on contracts. This involves putting in a new pay claim for the following season and sometimes a newmedia deal. It’s important to have union support, especially when it comes to keeping track of our intellectual property. For example, if the ENO streams an opera to cinemas around the country or does a radio broadcast, it’s important that as players we collect our royalties.

2– A physical job

If musicians are performing for four hours straight, it’s taxing on the body. If you come in the next day and do that again, it’s the equivalent of an athlete running consecutive races. When musicians exceed their hours, they start to grow tired, strain themselves and get injuries. The standard of performance then drops. Our managers are considerate but they’re not in the seat doing our jobs, so the union helps us to negotiate our working hours and conditions.

Joe Arnold playing trombone

3–Dealing with grievances

Playing an instrument is personal: if someone highlights an issue with your performance, those views will invariably be subjective, and it feels like a reflection on you as you’ve put in so many hours of practice.In the past, people have left the orchestra out of principle or stress if they’ve had a comment made about their capability. As a rep, I encourage people to discuss personal issues with the union, as there are procedures we can follow that take the stress away from the situation.

4–An act of solidarity

I went to a graduation fair in my finalfew weeks at the Royal Academy of Music and spoke to the MU. Joining the union felt like the right thing to do. It’s not just about looking after your own welfare; it’s about supporting your colleagues. I signed up there and then.

When the ENO Chorus went on strike over cuts to working hours and salary in 2016, the ENO Orchestra backed them. We feel the Chorus is a vital part of the company and that if singers have to look elsewhere to pay their bills, you’ll end up losing great singers. We did what we could to support our colleagues, with the help of the union.