Opera Australia has been hit with multiple unfair dismissal claims after it made one third of its orchestra redundant.
However, the legitimacy of the redundancies is in question.
Soon after the lay offs, the organisation advertised for casual freelance musicians to fill the vacancies.
Arts sector hit hard by pandemic
The arts sector has been hit hard by the COID-19 pandemic, and Opera Australia is no exception.
It is preparing to sell its Sydney warehouse along with much of its contents, including props and costumes.
In August, the board also approved cuts to all permanent positions across creative, technical and administrative operations, without the chance for voluntary redundancies.
Opera Australia placed the remaining staff on JobKeeper.
Opera Australia hit with multiple unfair dismissal claims
One musician made redundant in September is oboist Mark Bruwel, who has been with the orchestra for more than 30 years.
He expressed his concern to Guardian Australia over the lack of transparency in the mass forced redundancy procedure.
He believes Opera Australia targeted him for redundancy, along with some other musicians, because of their union activities.
“There is no doubt in my mind that people who were outspoken on issues were targeted in the elimination process.”
Clarinettist Peter Jenkin also believes his union activity is behind his dismissal.
He is one of nine musicians who have filed unfair dismissal claims in the Fair Work Commission.
However, an Opera Australia spokesperson denies the claims.
“Decisions regarding these redundancies were solely based on the positions required by Opera Australia into the future in responding to this once-in-a-century crisis.
“We appreciate the significant role that the union plays in the organisation and respect and support our employees’ rights to be a member of the union.”
Casualisation of the workforce
As a result of the mass redundancies, Opera Australia now needs to fill 13 vacant positions for its upcoming 2021 season.
It sent an email to the sacked musicians calling for expressions of interest to fill the “temporary” positions.
The MEAA’s director for musicians, Paul Davies, told Guardian Australia the company is scrambling to fill the very positions it made redundant.
“There appears to be no real change to the operating model as claimed, but rather a brazen strategy to casualise the workforce and reduce wages and conditions.”
“WHEN A GENUINE REDUNDANCY IS REALLY AN UNFAIR DISMISSAL”
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan says the musicians could be victims of non-genuine redundancies.
“A non-genuine redundancy happens when a company makes a position redundant that is still needed,” he said.
“The affected employees will claim unfair dismissal in this case because it is clear Opera Australia still requires musicians to fill the orchestra positions.”