Equity Phoenix victory after Leeds demonstration

Equity members demonstrated outside the Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds on Monday morning demanding the company reverse its decision to lay off dancers

FOLLOWING performers’ union Equity’s demonstration outside the Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds on Monday morning to demand that the contemporary dance company reverse their decision to lay off dancers and other employees for seven months on £100 per month payments, the company reversed its plans.

On Monday evening, Dominic Bascombe, Equity’s Regional Official for North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, who represented the Equity members affected, announced: ‘I am absolutely delighted that Phoenix Dance Theatre has decided to stop the layoffs of dancers and the creative team.
‘We have tried our best to support them over the past few weeks and have coordinated a public campaign alongside the TUC Yorkshire team to raise the profile of the situation.
‘They have been overwhelmed by the support of the public, trade unionists and fair minded people everywhere.
‘When we stand together we can achieve. If you’re not in a union, find one to join. If you are in a union already, be an activist.
‘Thanks to everyone for your support.’
Alongside the two permanent staff dancers who were due to be laid off while Phoenix undergoes a ‘creative pause’ from June 2022 to January 2023, there were six dancers on fixed-term contracts which ended following the company’s final 40th anniversary performance.
Phoenix Dance Theatre has also recently been in receipt of millions of pounds of public funding from the Arts Council and Leeds City Council, among others.
The demonstration took place at the Northern Ballet building, where Phoenix Dance Theatre is housed in central Leeds.
Equity welcomed both members and non-members to join the demo in solidarity with the affected dancers.
The union also handed in a petition with over 1,800 signatures, calling on Charis Charles, Chief Executive of Phoenix Dance Theatre, to save the jobs.
The demonstration took place during Equity’s Annual Representative Conference (ARC) which was held in Leeds between Saturday 21st to Monday 23rd May.
At the ARC, an emergency motion was unanimously passed in favour of the union continuing to challenge Phoenix Dance Theatre management to treat staff fairly, reverse its decision on layoffs and engage in proper and meaningful negotiations.
Two of the affected Equity members who work for Phoenix Dance Theatre spoke at the ARC and received a standing ovation, with one of the members saying that Phoenix couldn’t expect them to survive on the pay offered while they are laid off, especially during the cost of living crisis.
‘This ARC notes with alarm the actions of Phoenix Dance Theatre to implement a pause of its creative work and lay off its dancers.
‘Whilst an organisation is free to make creative decisions, such decisions should ensure that staff are treated fairly and are properly consulted.
‘The use of layoffs – a piece of legislation that was intended to apply at times of shortage of materials in factories or dockyards – is not applicable to creative professionals and is unacceptable.
‘Expecting creative professionals to survive on a paltry £100 per month, for the next seven months, is unacceptable.
‘Asking staff to identify their trade union membership is unacceptable.
‘Phoenix Dance Theatre has failed in its duties as an employer but we will not fail our members there.
‘This ARC calls on the Council to continue to challenge Phoenix Dance Theatre management to treat staff fairly, reverse its decision on layoffs and engage in proper and meaningful negotiations.’
On Saturday 21 May, Equity held a rally calling to stop the privatisation of Channel 4.
Starting with a demonstration, around 50 Equity members brought placards and chants straight to the doorstep of Channel 4’s national headquarters in Leeds.
This was followed by a rally at Leeds Corn Exchange, which featured speakers such as the Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell and Hollyoaks actress Dawn Hope, as well as representatives from an independent production company based in the North of England and the campaign group We Own It.
The rally marked an escalation of the campaign to Save Channel 4 and stop the privatisation of the public service broadcaster –  as indicated by the range of speakers at Equity’s rally.
Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: ‘Let’s work together and try and stop the sell off of Channel 4, because that is also going to speak to a much bigger agenda about how we want to support public service broadcasters here in the UK.
‘Because it’s Channel 4 first and the BBC next and it’s everything we value about public service broadcasting in this country further down the line too. So this is a really important battle for us to come together and win.’
Dawn Hope, Hollyoaks actress and Equity Councillor, said: ‘Let’s not be silent – and the only way we can do that is to actually keep speaking up.
‘They (the government) want to silence our creativity, front and back of camera. And we are the ones who have got to say “thus far and no further”.’
Christian Hills, Creative Director of True North Productions, the biggest non-scripted independent production company in the North of England, said: ‘Much will be said about legally binding commitments for the new owners (of Channel 4), but expect a steady erosion of any license conditions, especially since the plan is for Channel 4 to have a significant in-house production arm.
‘At that point, smaller indies (independent producers) – maybe 200 across the UK – will see their prospects diminish, and the creative sector outside of London will shrink.’
Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting and theatre technicians’ union Bectu, responded to the contents of the proposed Media Bill in the Queen’s Speech, by saying: ‘This is the next step towards a disastrous privatisation of Channel 4, a much-loved and entirely self-sustaining public service broadcaster.
‘Channel 4 supports a thriving independent production sector, creating tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and investing 100% of its £1 billion revenue back into the organisation, at zero-cost to the taxpayer.
‘There could not be a worse time to introduce further uncertainty for the creative industries, who were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, and continue to face a chronic skills shortage.
‘Pursuing plans to privatise such a successful and uniquely British institution, in the face of united industry opposition, is nothing short of cultural vandalism.
‘MPs and Peers across the political spectrum must strongly oppose this destruction of a cherished cultural asset.’
Commenting on the Tory Minister Nadine Dorries’s announcement on the government’s review into BBC funding earlier this month, Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: ‘Today the Culture Secretary has told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee she will announce the review into the BBC’s funding model imminently, which will include the appointment of an ‘independent’ chair.
‘However, in the same session she made clear her support and preference for abolishing the licence fee.
‘This is not the unbiased environment we need behind a review that could threaten the future of a proudly British institution that is respected and envied worldwide.
‘The public service remit of the BBC is to inform, entertain and educate and to do that it needs a stable funding model that puts creativity, world-class content and jobs at its heart.
‘The Culture Secretary’s blatant support for scrapping the licence fee and instead forcing the BBC to compete directly with the streaming giants fundamentally misunderstands the role the BBC plays in British national life, and risks the services and benefits to the UK’s economy that only the BBC provides.
‘Freezing and later abolishing the fee will necessitate huge cuts – hitting jobs, regional economies and ultimately the content that British people know and love.
‘It is imperative that the government approaches the review on the basis of evidence, transparency and impartiality it demands and deserves. It owes this much to the British public and to the future of public service broadcasting.’

  • New inflation figures in May show that CPI inflation figures rose 9% in the 12 months to April, up from 7% in March.

Bectu is a constituent part of the Prospect trade union.
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: ‘These eye-watering inflation figures will leave workers right across the country making impossible choices about what they cut from family budgets just to make ends meet.
‘It is just not good enough to suggest that workers must bear the cost of this, while pay inequality widens with the top 1% of earners seeing sharp increases in pay last month.
‘The government need to get real about the cost-of-living crisis, with an emergency budget to provide more support with energy bills and an end of to real terms cuts in pay for public sector workers.’