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Low Pay

With part time contracts, working ‘below the rate’ and making up the hours increasingly becoming the norm, how can we improve pay for orchestral players?

With part time contracts, working ‘below the rate’ and making up the hours increasingly becoming the norm, how can we improve pay and conditions for orchestral players? A panel of musicians and industry leaders considered some of the options at our inaugural Orchestra Section Conference.

“Orchestras are not like factories, nor do orchestras function like an office.” Every member is a highly trained and experienced worker contributing to a very technical whole, says freelance double bassist Ken Knussen. Yet their role is undervalued - one musician told delegates about an orchestral manager who suggested musicians make up their hours with data entry.

“The people at the bottom of the pile are there”, added Ken on the gap between top and bottom earners. Helena Nicholls suggested age might be a factor, with unscrupulous employers offering very low fees to young musicians and then using the saving to undercut other orchestras in a crowded profession. One proposed solution was to bring back the term ‘semi-professional’ into popular use, or to introduce a new category such as 'Young Enterprise Orchestra', to bridge the gap between student and pro where employers see one."

“Sometimes I feel like David and Goliath”, says James Murphy, Managing Director of the Southbank Sinfonia. James keeps the MU ABO Agreement on his desk and regularly talks to MU staff about issues affecting young musicians. Values are important, he added, including joining the Union. Another solution James proposes is to help young musicians become better negotiators so they can stand up for themselves in a collegiate way.

If you’ve experience low or no pay, tell us about it. Every story we hear helps us build our Work Not Play campaign into a force for change within our industry, raising public awareness of the value of fair pay. Send us a testimonial about an approach or experience you’ve had - it can be anonymous if you wish - and spread the word using social media #WorkNotPlayMU.


Published: 19/01/2016
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