Budget Tours Take a Hit in France

By: Frank Cadenhead

Touring performing arts groups, usually orchestras and ballet companies from Eastern Europe, are a common part of each season in cities and towns throughout France and Europe. They usually feature standard repertory appealing to mass audiences and often have names which seem impressive but, under closer inspection, are of questionable importance. Is this activity, already less often seen, coming to an end?

Last Friday, as reported by the French newspaper Ouest France, a touring group, the Bolshoi of Minsk, was awarded compensation for their wages and conditions of employment while touring France in 2014. The dancers were not involved in this action, only the musicians. The company is the principal dance company in Minsk and It was touring a production of Swan Lake.

In the city of Nantes, the Prud’hommes, the French labor court, awarded twenty orchestra members of the troop 14,000 euros each in compensation (they had asked for 25,000 euros) from Franceconcert, a corporation based in Nantes.

In this complaint they were supported by the CGT (Confédération générale du travail), the largest labor union in France. The complaint listed a monthly salary for the touring musicians of about 300 euros and pointed out that French musicians employed by the same company receive an average 2200 euros. The complaint alleged that they were housed in poor conditions and were obliged to share hotel beds with other musicians. The tour sometimes had 13 consecutive days of performance without a day of rest.

“This is a victory,” said Philippe Gautier of the CGT.  “This is the first time that foreign artists have individually pursued their employer and the amount of the penalty, completely new, will help deter others from this course of action.”  There is no word about any action to benefit the dancers.

At the hearing on January 21, the attorney for Franceconcert opposed the action: “We are not slave-drivers or an unscrupulous employer.” The French adjective used, négrier, has a root in the word negro to describe using slaves.  It is not necessarily related to the history of the port city of Nantes which was an important transit point for the slave trade from Africa to America. Nantes in the home of the major classical music festival, the La Folle Journée de Nantes, at the end of January each year and which is in no way implicated in this action.

One can speculate as to the intention of the CGT which represents a large number of professional musicians in France. This action might have been designed to diminish the number of low budget touring groups. This action dramatically increase the cost to the contractor of an event in 2014 and is now a precedent for future legal actions.


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