From The Stage:
Published Tuesday 27 July 2010 at 12:48 by Natalie Woolman
Staff working at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, Kent, are considering taking legal advice, claiming they have been sidelined by volunteers since HQ Theatres started running the venue.
The theatre, which is owned by the local council, employs 22 paid ushers, who say their shifts have reduced dramatically since HQ took over the management of the venue and introduced volunteer ushers, of which there are now more than 200.
The union UNISON is representing the staff. Local branch secretary Steven Warner said he was seeking a resolution with management on behalf of the employees. If this were to fail, UNISON said it would give legal advice to the ushers – some of whom have worked at the venue for more than 20 years – which may result in claims being lodged with an employment tribunal service.
Warner commented: “In Dartford, historically, there has never been a volunteer workforce under the council’s control. The voluntary activity implemented at the Orchard, and without proper consultation I must add, has threatened the jobs of paid workers. There have been repercussions on earning levels and this activity has led to a deterioration in industrial relations and has resulted, we believe, in a poor service being offered to visiting patrons of the Orchard.”
However, Derek Nicholls, chief executive of HQ Theatres, responded: “Volunteers have always been introduced sensitively into our theatres, and with all proper consultation, and with clear definition of their role alongside paid staff, many of whom may have served the theatre loyally for some time.
“No one has been replaced by volunteers, who add distinctive strength, complementary to that of paid staff, to the theatre’s operation and its service to its customers.”
The Orchard Theatre has been run by HQ Theatres, a Qdos Entertainment Company, on behalf of Dartford Borough Council, since last year.