Redundancies at the Abbey

Redundancies at the Abbey

When Nokia Siemens sought a term to make the loss of 3,000 of its employees seem more palatable, they broke new ground with the phrase, “synergy-related headcount restructuring”. In the wake of such corporate jargon, and preparing for economic turbulence, the Abbey Theatre has been treading a thin line between euphemism and straight talking.

At the launch of the theatre’s new season, Artistic Director, Fiach MacConghail, seemed to be upfront about the issue: “We’re in the middle of a major restructuring process at the moment at The Abbey,” he said, “in that we are in a collective redundancy scenario.” In June, he outlined this scenario to Vincent Woods on RTE Radio 1’s The Arts Show, a few days after staff had been informed. The theatre was seeking to cut between twenty-five and thirty full-time positions to mitigate a shortfall in Arts Council subsidy, which had decreased to €8.35m for 2009 from €10m in 2008, and was expected to decrease sharply in 2010. Currently the Abbey has 113 “full-time equivalent” positions.

MacConghail stressed that the theatre was not currently in debt – in fact it has an operating surplus of about three million euro. Such conservatism in safeguarding the theatre was reflected in the programme, similarly designed to weather an advancing storm. It features only two new plays (Sebastian Barry’s Tales of Ballycumber and Thomas Kilroy’s Christ Deliver Us) among three revivals of recent productions (Terminus, Ages of the Moon and The Seafarer) with two productions imported from other companies (the current Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival offering, Druid’s The New Electric Ballroom and GĂșna Nua’s Little Gem).

Following the announcement, the Abbey engaged in what was hoped to be a thirty-day “consultation process” with staff as suggestions were invited towards reducing costs at the theatre, and each department was reviewed. The process took considerably longer – there are twenty-six departments at the Abbey – and the most recent restructuring proposals were made at the beginning of September. The Abbey has now confirmed that it is looking for twenty-six “whole-time equivalent” job cuts, which could mean the loss of more than twenty-six staff members with a number of part-time contracts making up one full-time equivalent.

Director of finance and administration, Declan Cantwell, stresses that the Abbey is trying to avert a crisis, aware that the Government will not be able to rescue it from deficit, as was the case four years ago. At that time the Abbey, in a time of severe financial crisis, with a staff of ninety-one, also initially sought to lose between twenty-five and thirty jobs. “We're taking action now so we can do an orderly restructuring to fit the circumstances we find ourselves in, and the circumstances of the next three to five years. Having the three million surplus on the books at the moment gives us the space to be able to implement an orderly restructuring.

“Our backs aren't to the wall and we're not having to make decisions on the fly or in a panic. It's being done in a professional way and well ahead of the point where the Abbey is at the edge of the cliff again, as it was in 2004/ 2005.”


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