West End shows facing strike threat as Equity puts in 17% pay claim

Theatres on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue at night (Rick Findler/PA) (PA Wire)
Theatres on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue at night (Rick Findler/PA) (PA Wire)

Some of the West End’s biggest shows could be hit by strike action after performers union Equity put in a 17% pay claim for thousands of its members in theatreland.

Union insiders expect the claim, which also includes a bid for more time off, to be rejected by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and said “nothing is off the table” as part of a campaign for better wages and conditions including a strike.

That raises the prospect of industrial action affecting hit shows from The Phantom of the Opera and Pretty Woman to Matilda the Musical and venues including the Palladium.

London Theatre Week aims to empower audiences to enjoy the West End (Ian West/PA) (PA Archive)
London Theatre Week aims to empower audiences to enjoy the West End (Ian West/PA) (PA Archive)

It comes as a union survey found almost half (45%) of its West End members have a second job and just short of two thirds (60%) considered quitting the industry in the last three years.

One West End performer told the Standard he was prepared to strike.

Antony, who has worked in the West End for six years and is currently on stage in a long-running hit musical, said he does two part-time jobs on top of performing six days a week to top up his salary and recently had to leave his flat as he could not afford the latest rent increase.

He said: “Once I’ve paid 15% to my agent and tax and national insurance I’m only left with enough to scrape by.

“I’m at the top of my game and have been for a while and I still have to work two other jobs. It’s exhausting.

“I can’t afford a ticket to see the show I’m in if I had to pay full price.”

Talks between the union and SOLT are set to start in February with hopes of a deal being agreed by April with any industrial action likely to hit theatres around Easter if the sides can not come to an agreement.

Equity’s General Secretary Paul W Fleming said it was time theatre bosses put the “focus on the workforce”.

He said: “Our members made a lot of sacrifices during Covid to protect the industry and the producers and that was the right thing to do and that goodwill now has to come back in our direction with a meaningful pay settlement.”

He said members were also increasingly worried low pay was effectively making theatre work inaccessible to people not from a wealthy background.

He said: “The industry can talk all it wants about improving accessibility but if you do not raise pay these people can not come.

“The average parent watching their child in a nativity play does not think my child can survive in that industry.”

A spokeswoman for SOLT said: ““As we enter this year’s negotiations, we are keen to build on our already constructive relationship with Equity to achieve a sustainable outcome.”