A MSO spokeswoman said the board made a decision on the “financial reality” that if they kept paying their employees, even at a reduced level, the orchestra would have burned through its reserves and been trading insolvent by Christmas – or even by October.
The company will ensure musicians get the federal JobKeeper subsidy and support those who do not qualify, she said.
“It has been extremely difficult,” the spokeswoman said. “We worked hard to try to turn things around … but there was no other option.”
Another financial shock had been its major sponsor, Emirates, postponing payments to the company, she said.
The orchestra’s most recent annual report, for 2018, shows the orchestra received just under $14 million in public funding, and spent just under $18 million on employees.
Paul Davies, director of MEAA Musicians, said players’ representatives had agreed on an equitable way forward to help the company stay afloat while looking after the musicians: a temporary 50 per cent pay cut in return for a salary floor to protect the lowest paid.
“Disappointment is not strong enough,” he said “There is dissatisfaction, dismay at the way this has been handled, by the rejection of an offer to work with them on a cost-neutral basis that would have maintained trust. The way it has been conducted is incredibly bad…. we believe there is a legal case, certainly a moral case for bad-faith bargaining, though we won’t go down that route.”
Another musician, who asked not to be named due their ongoing relationship with the orchestra, said they had been “completely blindsided” by the stand-down announcement.
“It came as a massive shock,” they said. Rather than a fair settlement that would have lasted a year, they are now at the mercy of the JobKeeper program, with some musicians with leave accrued or who may be invited to perform for sponsors in a much better position than others, they said.
“We were hoping for something that was equitable across the whole orchestra. It wasn’t. We feel completely left out in the cold, the ‘them and us’ gap is getting wider. The trust and the goodwill is gone.”