While doing the dishes today, I overheard a report on the BBC about this weekend’s four day strike by truck drivers for Shell.
I know it is bad form to pit the interests of unions against each other, but my ears did pick up when I heard that the base salary for the striking drivers is 32,000 pounds/year.
By comparison, in the latest Musician’s Union study, orchestral musicians salaries trailed far, far behind those of lorry drivers. Here are some stat’s for UK regional orchestras (excluding London), courtesy of Hilary Burrage’s blog-
Who gets paid what?
Section Principals: BBC Regional ~ £32,118 per annum through to CBSO ~ £45,205 p.a.
Principals: RLPO ~ £28,298 pa through to CBSO ~£33,159 p.a.
Tutti: RLPO ~ £24,024 p.a. through to CBSO ~ £27,348 p.a.
In some cases there are increments and / or long service awards which take experienced players above these levels, but these additional sums, usually only a very few thousand per annum, rarely raise salaries significantly above the starting point. Likewise, some, but not all, orchestras pay musicians an additional fee for recordings, media relays etc.
So- British orchestral musicians, among the very best in the world, undergo years of study and make huge investments in instruments and equipment, yet they make less than unskilled workers. That a section principal, having won their position in highly competitive auditions and trials, at a BBC Regional orchestra (that includes the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony and BBC National Orchestra of Wales) makes less than the starting salary for a Shell lorry driver seems worse than obscene to me. According to the Guardian, Shell claims average pay for lorry drivers is “more than £36,000 and would have increased to around £39,000 under an offer rejected by the union.”
Sadly, I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon, as the Arts Council’s funding has been cut significantly to free up funds for the Olympics. Several well-established UK orchestras have lost their funding altogether, including the London Mozart Players.
Lorry drivers cite long working hours as a reason for needing an increase in compensation, but UK orchestral musicians work the longest and most grueling schedules in the world, often working twice as many services per year as their counterparts in America or Germany.
As a point of comparison, here are some numbers lifted from Drew McManus’ Adaptistration 2008 Compensation Report. Look at the salaries of the top 10 orchestras in the US
1- Boston $112, 840
2- Los Angeles $112,840
3- Philadelphia $109,200
4- San Francisco $107,120
5- Chicago $107,120
6- New York $107,120
7- Cleveland $105,620
8- Pittsburgh $97,101
9- Detroit- $96,850
10- Minnesota- $88,348
Given that the ICSOM pay structure means nobody actually earns base salary in American orchestras, the base salary or the no 10 orchestra in the us is on a par with the principal salary for the no 1 non-London orchestra in the UK ($88,348 for Minnesota compared to $$90,000 for the CBSO). (The concertmaster salary at the San Francisco Symphony at $426,000 is about five times section principal pay at the CBSO). Base salary at the CBSO converts to about $54,000 p.a., which would well out of the top 15 US orchestras.
What strikes one about Drew’s listing of ICSOM salaries is the gap between rich and poor among American musicians. Base salary in Honolulu is only $24,000 or 12,000 pounds, barely more than a third of base salary for Shell lorry drivers in the UK, and we’re talking here about elite orchestral musicians who have won their jobs through nationally competitive auditions, generally after at least 6 years of conservatory and post-graduate training. Musicians in the Oregon Symphony make less than 2/3rds the base salary of a lorry driver, and even members of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, the most prestigious chamber orchestra in North America make less than an entry level lorry driver. A musician in the Spokane Symphony, a fine orchestra with a busy schedule, makes $10,000/year if they play everything (most ROPA musicians earn less than base salary)…..
Never mind the thousands of freelancers in the UK and US, who not only make only a tiny fraction of these amounts, but spend their lives on the highways our nations being cut off by truck drivers making many times what they make…..
And then there is Columbus….