Performing arts union Equity is balloting members who work in subsidised theatre on the deal negotiated with UK Theatre, the representative body for most of the largest publicly subsidised theatre managements.
The main deal is unacceptable. Many members are not happy about it. UK Theatre has offered a measly 2% pay rise in basic rates over the next three years.
This amounts to a cut when taking into account inflation. Members will be working just as hard and taking home less.
There are better increases in touring allowances, and enhancements for extra responsibilities like 'swings' and 'dance captains'.
Members will welcome improvements on maximum hours during rehearsal and minimum breaks between shows, as well as the audition code of conduct for employers.
But beyond this the deal seems to have very few solid agreements. Management is asked to "sympathetically consider any requests for flexible working."
Meanwhile, we are promised "a working party to negotiate a five-day rehearsal week" - Equity will try to negotiate a five-day week only after the three-year deal is signed, sealed and delivered.
What's truly disappointing is that the union actually advises acceptance. How can we expect to get anything out of theatres if we accept deals like this without even voicing opposition?
On the one hand, Equity rightly observes austerity has hit arts subsidy hard. Theatres which claim they will struggle to meet a real increase should open their books to inspection by the union.
And Equity should link its pay claims to campaigning for councils to set legal no-cuts budgets that could protect arts subsidies and force more funding from central government.
But the union also states that "to improve the deal members would have to take industrial action." So is the money there or not?
There is an unspoken assumption that members will not take industrial action. Even junior doctors struck in 2015.
When the deal is taking money out of members' pockets, isn't it worth at least raising the idea with them?
A vote to reject would show the union and management the strength of feeling on this issue so we can put some kind of pressure on UK Theatre.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 12 August 2019 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.