Stalled negotiations threatened to darken shows

LONDON

A U.K. labor dispute that has threatened to darken a number of West End shows — including “Wicked” at the Apollo Victoria Theater and “The Lion King” at the Lyceum — appears to be moving toward a resolution, with previously stalled talks resuming between the Ambassador Theater Group (ATG), the largest owner/operator of theaters in the U.K., and the 25,000-member media and entertainment union BECTU.

A strike, posed as a possibility by the union, could shutter productions at ATG’s 39 legit venues across the U.K. Contract issues under dispute are primarily pay scale and work hours for front-of-house staff, plus a change from weekly to monthly pay imposed by the government.

Talks had been ongoing at the offices of U.K. arbitration body A.C.A.S. but broke down Feb. 25 after ten hours.

BECTU accused ATG of sabotaging the talks by making changes to an agreement reached only last September, and quickly began balloting its members about strike action (as legally required). Although no details of potential disruption were released, the union issued a statement warning theatergoers they should check in advance whether the shows they have booked might be hit.

A spokesperson for ATG told Variety the org had been actively trying to get the talks back on track and that ATG remain upbeat and were keen to resolve the issue.

In its official statement, the org said, “ATG was stunned and disappointed when BECTU decided to break off from negotiations on Monday. BECTU rejected out of hand an improved pay deal and a three-and-a-half-hour minimum call time (more than had been lobbied for) for all front-of-house staff affected from 1 April. Talks with BECTU have resumed today in the hope of finding swift resolution.”

The spokesman for BECTU, already involved in the latest round of talks, could not be reached for comment.

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