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Scottish Opera players looking for cleaning jobs

One of the jewels in the crown of Scottish culture is facing a talent drain after an internal report found more than 80% of the orchestra of Scottish Opera are planning to leave.

In a revealing survey, some of Scotland’s leading musicians detail how they are looking for part-time jobs as cleaners, waitresses and supermarket workers to supplement their income, as the national opera's orchestra is set to become a part-time operation next year.

The report shows that 36 of the 44 musicians who completed the survey are actively looking for alternative employment, and would leave the orchestra if a suitable opportunity arose.

In September, Scottish Opera’s orchestra voted narrowly in favour of going part-time after management proposed to cut working hours and pay.

In the 12 months from April 2011, the players will be offered 31 weeks’ work. From April 2012, that will drop to a minimum of 28 weeks a year.

It is understood this will save Scottish Opera several hundred thousand pounds a year.

The move to part-time working for the orchestra comes six years after the loss of the company’s full-time chorus.

The survey was completed by 44 musicians, and shows starkly the effects of losing full-time work – in what may be a taste of things to come for hundreds of workers in the creative field.

Many of the musicians feel they have no option but to move to England or elsewhere for work, and are doubtful they can find suitable part-time or freelance employment.

More than 50% are also looking for new part-time jobs to supplement their income following the change in their contracts.

Most of the musicians are furious at the way their lives will be affected by the part-time move.

The report reveals that some musicians are taking medication for, or are concerned about, anxiety and stress. Some are remortgaging or selling their homes and planning to move abroad to find work, while others are considering bankruptcy.

Some are looking for part-time jobs as supermarket workers, cleaners, labourers or waiters. One is considering a job in a crematorium.

One musician said: “It’s hard to find a reason to give it my all when a company I have given such dedication to for years can turn around and totally devalue what I do in such a reckless way.”

Another said: “Having done the sums, I realise it’s impossible to stay working for this company long-term, given that there isn’t enough freelance work in Scotland to make up the shortfall in income and there is no alternative work I can think of which will fit around the new inflexible schedule.”

Another said the loss of their family home was “a distinct possibility”, while one of their colleagues said simply: “My family cannot survive on the proposals offered.”

In a section entitled “Other thoughts and comments”, one musician wrote: “Scottish Opera is finished and I am finished with Scottish Opera.”

Another said: “The artistic core of the company is being sacrificed because of a conception of opera which is completely director-driven, where music and singing are of secondary importance”.

And another wrote: “I hope the board of Scottish Opera look back on this sorry saga and take full responsibility for the damage they are wreaking on us, the company, and music in general throughout Scotland.”

Alex Reedijk, the company’s general director, believes the orchestra is under-utilised. He says he asked every member to speak to him individually about the issues involved, but no-one took him up on the offer.

“I have always had an open-door policy here [but] no-one responded to my invitation,” he said. “The survey gives the impression there’s been no commitment to help the players, but that is not true.

“What is still the case is that we cannot afford to pay people a full-time salary for what is only part-time work.

“Some of the options we could have considered would have been much more disruptive. And the fact is that, under this new arrangement, no jobs have been lost.”

Phil Miller