Mercedes Barrado Timón
As published in Hoy de Extremadura, the 30 May 2012
- The musicians handed a document rejecting this measure and say there are other ways to tackle the debt
- The Department for Culture will terminate the contracts of the personnel of the orchestra if they don’t accept to become seasonal workers.
The continuity of the Orchestra of Extremadura (OEx) will be at stake during the course of the next few weeks. The meeting held yesterday in Badajoz between the personnel of the orchestra and Milagros Rodicio, director of the Centre for the Performing Arts and Music, from the Department for Education and Culture, was concluded by a total breakdown of negotiations after only ten minutes. During the short meeting, Milagros Rodicio insisted that the best solution to write off the debt of the OEx, around 900 000 euros, is the conversion of the current permanent contracts of the personnel, into permanent seasonal. The musicians handed in return a document, signed by 100% of the personnel, in which they completely reject this possibility.
Milagros Rodicio declared that from now on, the musicians will need to individually accept or reject the proposal of the Department of Culture. They will have a fifteen-day period to do so from the moment they receive the communication. If the new contracts are not accepted by a number of musicians sufficient to maintain the normal activity of the orchestra, the contracts will be terminated, there will be a collective dismissal, and the OEx will cease to exist.
A few minutes before the meeting, the members of the OEx gathered near the entrance of the Conference Center in Badajoz, wearing a green ribbon on their black clothes in representation of the flag of Extremadura and as a symbol of their hope in the viability of the orchestra. The meeting started right after Milagros Rodicio arrived, and not even ten minutes later, the doors opened again and the musicians left the room, followed by the director of the Centre for the Performing Arts and Music. There obviously was a complete breakdown between both parties.
Rodicio defended the idea that the Department for Culture has tried at all times to maintain the OEx, at the lowest cost possible, and that the solution best suited for this is the transformation of the current contracts of the personnel of the orchestra from permanent to seasonal. “The solution, to accept it or not, is in their hands”, she said. Yesterday’s meeting confirmed the impossibility of the negotiations between both parties after the Department for Education and Culture considered broken off the talks, due to “the pressure we were subjected to”. What she refers to as pressure is the fact that the musicians addressed the audience in their concerts to inform them of their positions in all this process, which she considers is “using their working time and an inadequate platform”.
Milagros Rodicio wanted to make clear that the Department doesn’t consider the musicians or the present administration responsible of the current situation, “but we need to solve it”. Rodicio said they have examined “the various options which simultaneously allow us to pay off the existing debt in order to program a season in accordance with the level of the OEx and its audience, and that would be least detrimental for the interests of the musicians” and she declared that to promote the change of contracts was “a very hard decision”.
For his part, Santiago Pavón, of the worker’s committee of the OEx, said the Department for Culture never really started an actual negotiation, and that they only offered them the choice between “renouncing their contracts or getting the redundancy notice”. The personnel of the OEx considers that to accept the proposal of the Department would suppose “to give up our job security, close the orchestra for extended periods yearly, and not to have any type of guarantee that we could get back our actual conditions in the future”.
The musicians say that accepting this would jeopardize the public service they offer and could be “the beginning of the end of the orchestra”, by weakening the organization chart of the Foundation and facilitate its “cheap” dissolution. Santiago Pavón says they have felt threatened with this proposal of collective dismissal and another alternative which was the dismissal of a certain number of workers. “This is what they call in Naples to negotiate with your gun on the table”, he declared. He said they made it through the last few months by reducing their salaries, basically giving them the same treatment as they did to civil servants, while they depend on a foundation, which has a different chart and status; and actually reducing the staff, since they are not hiring to cover for the people on leave anymore. All these measures actually reduced the debt at a much more accelerated rate than the government expected, but “their game was to consistently place the finish line further as we were getting closer”. The workers offered to postpone the payment of their salaries while the debt to the Social Security was being paid, but their gesture was rejected. So they went to Mérida (the capital of the autonomous region), to hand in person the document stating their refusal to change their contracts.