G_rard Mortier Breaks Silence on Paris Opera Strikes

Classic Arts News   G_rard Mortier Breaks Silence on Paris Opera Strikes
Gérard Mortier, the director of the Opéra National de Paris, has spoken out for the first time on the strikes that have been plaguing his company off and on since mid-October.

In a statement to the media yesterday reported by Agence France-Presse, Mortier characterized the situation at the Opéra as "rather grave." He confirmed that the walkouts have already cost the company €3.1 million and said that "if the strike continues through the end of December, the losses could reach €8 million."

So far the company has had to cancel 17 performances due to the walkouts, and has presented eight more in concert or semi-staged versions. "We have sent 47,267 audience members home," complained Mortier.

He went on to warn that programming could be affected if the company's losses continue, indicating that the world premiere of an opera by the Swiss composer Hanspeter Kyburz, scheduled for 2009, might be in jeopardy.

The work stoppages at the Opéra are part of the nationwide strikes over President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to reform the numerous (and expensive) pension schemes in place for various unions and professions.

Most of the unions representing Paris Opera staff called off their strikes last month. Only SUD, a minority union which represents many of the scenery and lighting workers, and the even smaller union FSU are continuing their walkouts through Dec. 20.

Paris Opera director of human resources Dominique Legrand told AFP that the strikers constitute no more than 5 to 6 percent of the 1,680 salaried staff members at the company.

Mortier did say that negotiations had made "an enormous advance" and are "going in the right direction." According to AFP, all of the unions except SUD and FSU have accepted a basic proposal that will maintain the current level of pension benefits if the length of service required for retirement is extended by one-and-a-half years (with higher payments for those who work longer). In addition, management has offered increases in severance pay and salary level necessary to qualify for benefits as well as the incorporation of annual bonuses into the new pension plan.

One union leader, Patrick Ferrier of Synptac-CGT (which represents technical and administrative staff and is not currently on strike), said that management's offers are advances over the status quo but that "we must take the time to evaluate them."

Gilles Cortesi, representative of SUD, the most resistant of the unions at the Opéra, called the management's avowal of its readiness to continue negotiations "a giant fraud."

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