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It looks like this change was inevitable, and an extension of existing practice, but until now freelance orchestra members haven't been affected. To quote the article, "there have been appreciable, steady advances on stage in this area, we have prioritised increased diversity in the orchestra."

Although it probably would have happened sooner or later, I feel sympathy for these musicians. Freelance work is already precarious, and to add to the blow, the current pandemic has already impacted on people financially and otherwise. The timing of the decision is appalling, and it seems there was little or no consultation beforehand.

Public policy like this is already likely to be controversial. Whatever the good intentions behind the policy, if it is implemented in this manner it makes it appear like yet another case of the end justifying the means.

Just reading between the lines, it could be that the former management postponed making this decision as long as they where in charge. New management might be eager to sweep the company with their broom as a sign of authority and to ensure compliance. New as well as existing employees will be reluctant to question future decisions.
 

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It seems that this policy is part of a program called I'M IN, run by a company called London Music Masters, which major UK orchestras signed up to last year:

https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/...musicians-im-in-diversity-audit-a4511261.html

Its called diversity now, but in the past there where other labels attached to policies to redress inequalities (e.g., equal opportunity, affirmative action). If we go way back into the past, women getting the vote was a huge milestone. Changes in policy of that nature have impacts everywhere, even in classical music. I'd guess that the rise in the number of women playing in orchestras has been steady in the past hundred years. The Vienna Phil held out until the 1990's, but by then they where not the norm.

In principle its hard to disagree with the idea that orchestras need to reflect changes in society. As I commented earlier, whatever the good intentions of this diversity policy, the manner in which its being implemented doesn't sound right.

Obviously the jobs of permanent employees of orchestras are secure. Unfortunately, it looks like that those who are freelance, casual or temps are at the receiving end of the negative side of this policy.

There's always a downside to change. I guess in terms of how the economy is run, the brutal reality is that the most vulnerable will be most exposed to change. This class is growing, and it includes many educated people, the term for them is precariat. Management is about delivering on targets, monetary or otherwise, so the needs of these workers are easily overlooked. At the same time, without them, the economy would collapse.

To put a lighter spin on this, I guess the ultimate question is about the rate of change. In this clip from Yes Minister, the minister and his advisor are arguing about quotas for women in government. Sir Humphrey, as usual, wants gradual change and the minister wants it to be immediate:

 

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Thank you for the Daily Mail article. It spells out the bad timing of this decision, which is what came to my mind when reading Lebrecht's post:

It is the latest blow to musicians, who were unable to work for the majority of the pandemic and were forced to rely on grants and loans.

Musicians said they had hoped the Spring 2022 season would see them return to work and be an opportunity to repay debts racked up during the pandemic.


The real test of a policy is how it works out in practice. Perhaps the negative publicity will make the arts bureaucracy think about how they can improve implementation of this policy.

It also looks like the Arts Council and ETO are playing a bit of a pass the hot potato game. They're obviously not on the same page about it, which is a problem since it can potentially impact on so many musicians.
 

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Bad luck to the employees for being caught up in this mess. Its a case of really bad timing and probably of poor communication between the powers that be. The right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

I'm surprised that all those orchestras signed up to the I'M IN program last year, when the pandemic was already underway. Government organisations don't do things like this on a whim. They would have spent years planning this policy. It seems that not even a global pandemic was going to prevent it from being rolled out.
 

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The ultimate irony here is that the musicians who have just been hired can very well end up in the same position as those who have been discarded. Hypothetically, in the not so distant future, a government can be elected which doesn't support this diversity policy, and in some way render it obsolete. Short of changing laws, it can be abandoned in practice.

Diversity isn't even the core issue here. The real problem is, as I argued earlier, economic. It is how over decades, worker's rights have been eroded, and how so many now are forced into temporary employment. Economists call this class the precariat, and its a category that cuts across a person's education, country of origin and industry they work in.

Its no wonder so many have lost faith in those who govern them. They are not so much out of touch as playing dice with the lives of future generations. Many of the rights which where fought for by unions in the past, for example, are now in the process of being dismantled.
 

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On the other hand, in the UK at least, successive governments have tinkered both positively and negatively with employment rights. It's by no means the case that rights have merely been eroded. For example:

https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/about/legislation-updates#gref

Whilst I get the 'irony' bit, it seems to me that the ETO is simply doing this year what it has done in previous years, and which no-one paid any attention to: freelancers were already being "sacked" from year to year, because that's the nature of its employment practice.
The writing was obviously on the wall, and companies do need some flexibility in hiring and firing. However, I think that this case boils down to double standards. In the application of this diversity policy, permanent employees are protected from its immediate impact, while temporary employees are not.

I think that anyone who has been at least somewhat impacted by the pandemic will find it hard to apply dry legalistic reasoning to this case. Policy doesn't just operate in theory, it effects people's lives in reality.
 

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^ The difference is that precarious employment has been normalised, this diversity policy hasn't.

The political process of using think tanks like the one which devised this policy has been standard practice now for ages. Government pays someone to give them the advice that they want, which in turn legitimizes the implementation of what they had intended from the start. Nobody, least of all voters, believe this to be something other than the cynical PR exercise it is.

But to get back to the case at hand, it looks like there was no way out for the ETO musicians, pandemic or not they just have to suck it up. By necessity, unions prioritise the rights of permanent employees, so they won't be able to help much here.

Every cloud has its silver lining, and I guess given all the negative media attention this case has received, other ensembles will think twice before doing exactly the same thing.
 

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I would also direct the experts who have contributed to this discussion to the recent decided case of the 'Uber Drivers'. The principles decided are highly germane.
Drivers are so important, yet they're at the bottom end of the gig economy. On a related note, I like the work of Ken Loach, who has for decades directed many films on how changes have impacted on the working class. A few here would remember Riff-Raff from the '90's.

A couple of years ago I saw Sorry We Missed You, which tells a story which is all too real. He's a delivery driver, she's a nurse and they are both precariat, outsourced labour. They have two children, and due to unpredictable work can't devote the time and energy they'd like to their family. The older son goes into petty crime and the younger daughter can't fully understand why her parents are hardly around or awake.

In the end, the father gets badly injured in a mugging, but has to work the next day. He can't afford to be sick because there's a clause in his contract that if he misses a day he has to hire another driver to cover him (or get fined).

That lack of resolution is reality for so many people. Although the music industry isn't the same as transport, there are parallels between them since this sort of casualisation and outsourcing of labour cuts across the entire economy. The current pandemic has made this even more apparent than it already was.

 
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