Bectu, the trade union representing theatre workers in the UK, says that the number of job losses in its industry took a dramatic upturn in the last four weeks.
On July 3, the union published figures revealing 3,000 redundancies had been felt by theatre workers, and that number has risen to 5,000 since then. That’s despite the government’s $2BN rescue package for the country’s arts and culture venues that was announced in July.
Live performance venues can technically re-open as of this week, but strong virus safety measures are a significant barrier to almost all theaters.
The earliest UK theaters are expected to resume operations in a meaningful way, which will require further relaxing of the country’s social distancing measures, will be in November, according to recent statements by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. Prominent figures including Cameron Mackintosh have cast doubt on whether any large performances will take place before we are a significant chunk of the way into 2021.
In response, high-profile actors and directors have called for support for beleaguered workers, with two separate pots set up by Sam Mendes and Phoebe Waller-Bridge / Olivia Colman to help theater professionals who are out of pocket. With the closures ongoing, however, that support will need to be significantly extended.
Bectu said the 5,000 job losses include redundancies of those who are permanently employed and lay-offs of casual workers and zero hours contract staff. More than half came from London and the West End.
While the government’s $2BN rescue plan will protect some venues from bankruptcy, the recent reduction of the furlough scheme means employers may not be able to retain staff, warned Bectu.
The UK’s theatre industry employs an estimated 290,000 people, 70% of whom are freelance.
“The clock is still ticking to save the future of the theatre industry and these figures demonstrate the scale of the crisis it is facing. In July we warned that a storm would turn into a tsunami without further assistance. Despite, details of the arts recovery package being announced we are still nowhere closer to the money being distributed,” said Bectu head Philippa Childs.