The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) Equity has reported that dancers at the Australian Ballet “have filed for protected industrial action at the Fair Work Commission following months of enterprise bargaining negotiations during which management failed to make an acceptable pay rise offer”.

This is not the first time that the Australian Ballet has faced unrest from within its ranks over issues of pay, but the last time industrial action took place was in October 1981. Outraged over proposed changes to their contracts, which increased the number of performances and effectively demoted some of them, the dancers went on strike for 26 days resulting in the cancellation of parts of the Melbourne and Sydney seasons. As detailed in the AB’s online history, some of the Company’s top dancers resigned in the wake of the strike.

Australian Ballet dancers strike in 1970. Photograph © the Australian Ballet

The dancers also went on strike successfully in October 1970 outside the Canberra Theatre over the Company’s pay structure, holding placed with slogans like “Why pirouette into poverty?”

According to the AB’s website, the Company’s 80 dancers, together with a sizable support system backstage, present upwards of 250 shows and 1,700 education and audience engagement events each year. The AB is currently performing a 25th anniversary production of Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker – The Story of Clara at the Sydney Opera House.

Speaking to Limelight yesterday, an AB spokesperson said that negotiations with the dancers are on-going, with other meetings planned.

THe MEAA reports that dancers and Equity will meet with management today in a final bid to reach an agreement that adequately reflects the dancers’ increased workload before beginning industrial action.

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