The Norwegian Opera & Ballet is among cultural institutions facing a financial tragedy of dramatic dimensions. With fully a quarter of its state funding going towards simply covering pension costs, both the singers, dancers and their employers are trying to avoid seeing the lights go out.
State politicians were also stepping in to avoid a strike after labour talks broke off last week between the performers’ unions and employers’ organization Spekter. The latter is demanding that the performers, like many other employees in Norway, accept new pension agreements that will cut pension costs. The unions want to maintain pension benefits for actors, dancers, singers and musicians in the country’s theaters, the Opera & Ballet, and various orchestras.
Hardly any other unions have been threatening strikes, apart from Norwegian Air’s pilots earlier this year, mostly because of a climate of moderation amidst an economic slowdown caused by lower oil prices. The only real strike risk has been found within the culture sector, where benefits include a pension age of only 41 for ballet dancers, 52 for opera soloists and 56 for members of the choir.
Having to pay pensions for so many years after such low retirement ages, at relatively high rates, has already rendered the Norwegian Opera and Ballet technically bankrupt. Pension costs have risen 50 percent just since 2013 for pension plans that guarantee the performers 66 percent of their pay at time of pension age. Low interest rates mean the employers have to pay even more into the plans to secure payout levels.
The performers are willing to go along with a hybrid plan that would lower their employers’ costs, while the employers insist on a so-called innskudds plan that would only involve fixed contributions. No new labour talks were scheduled as of late Friday. Politicians, meanwhile, are also working to remove the age limits that now require performers to retire at just 41 or 52.