In April 2020, I joined the board of the Spanish union for opera artists „ALE“, where I was responsible for international affairs. My deep conviction was and still is, that we need to create a common European legal basis to protect all opera and theater workers.
We need to link up with existing unions and associations in other countries to create a federation that protects and values working conditions in the musical theatre sector.
In April 2020, the members of „ALE“ (Spain), „Assolirica“ (Italy), „Unisson“ (France), and „krea[K]tiv“ (Germany), also founded an informal collective called „LyriCoalition“. Since then, a regular exchange of information has taken place there. In recent months, this collection has grown and networked more and more. It currently sees itself enriched by further members, such as the trade union „Teaterförbundet“ (Sweden), the „Danish Actors Association“, the group „Stimm-Ig“ (Austria) as well as members of the newly forming associations in Switzerland and Belgium. The „LyriCoalition“ currently sees itself as an open and transparent platform for discussion and exchange.
Immediate access to up-to-date information about the measures taken by Covid 19 in the different countries, about plans to reopen theatres, choirs, orchestras with adapted programs under consideration of hygienic measures, about trade union activities of our neighbours, etc. is an enriching basis to reflect together and find solutions for the future. The Covid survey launched by krea[K]tiv, as well as the results of a Swedish study, show that the effects of the pandemic and the consequences for opera and theatre people are already very serious, both existentially and psychologically.
That freelance artists do not enjoy labour protection is unfortunately widespread, and this is, unfortunately, the case in all European countries.
Despite the differences in the legislation in force in the individual countries, we have recognized that our demands coincide in many fundamental points, whether it is a question of fair and appropriate remuneration in the case of loss of earnings or, more generally, of social protection anchored in the law.
Common priorities for the regulation of freelance artists‘ contracts include the following aspects:
- travel and accommodation expenses
- paid trial period
- payment in separate instalments (preparation, rehearsals, performances)
- media rights / streaming
- force majeure / COVID clauses
- compensation payments for cancelled productions
- redefinition and principled place of music theatre in society and politics
The analyses and proposals of the various countries differ in detail due to the characteristics and inherent reality of each country.
What becomes clear is that a pan-European comparison is impossible in terms of the amount of funding and bridging support. The number of theatres and opera houses, ensembles, and collectives, whether public or private, varies immensely. Correspondingly, the ability or the will of the states to develop financial aid programs for the cultural sector and solo independents also varies.
This means that the demands and proposed solutions based on existing legislation differ mainly in financial aspects.
On the other hand, we have noticed that the emergency assistance programs for solo self-employed people offered in recent months have not been able to respond to the specific needs of these people in an adequate way. This can be deduced from the fact that, in cultural policy, there is a great lack of knowledge about our working reality. This is compounded by the resulting difficulty in accessing such assistance.
It is impossible to quantify our „non-continuous“ work according to the law and thus to have access to unemployment benefits, health insurance, pensions, and social security. All over Europe, assistance programs for self-employed and freelancers of different financial sizes have been developed, some more, some less, and in all countries these aids have been designed without consideration for our industry. Unfortunately, we do not fit into any template! We are not prototypes and fall outside any grid that was used as a model for the development of these programs.
This justifies the great need to find solutions at the European level and to educate by analyzing and defining our past and future working conditions. The only way to do this work thoroughly is to stay in close contact with our partners.
In the elaboration of a new legal „working framework“ in the Spanish trade union „ALE“, we were greatly helped by the comparative analyses we received from other European countries through our young cooperation network.
The full document of the „working framework“ was presented in December 2020 through the members‘ area of the union’s website as part of the candidature documents of the current federation (www.sindicatolirico.com).
During my time as a board member of „ALE“, founding member of „krea[K]tiv“ and member of „Assolirica“, I have participated in numerous online meetings over the last 11 months, including conferences with non-European associations such as Argentinian colleagues and federations there.
Never before have music theatre freelancers coordinated and exchanged with each other as much as in these last months.
Never before have we been so interested in the reality of our neighbours, nor felt such a pronounced cross-border group affiliation.
In my opinion, this fact should help us to focus our energy on developing proposals for solutions, to present them to politicians on a broad scale and to plead for adequate and fair foundations for our working conditions to be created and enforced, ideally also by the European Parliament.