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Job fears under Govt plan to 'sell-off' BASS ticket office

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The State Government plans to “privatise” the Adelaide Festival Centre’s revenue-making BASS box office and make more than 20 staff redundant by October, unions claim.

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The Public Service Association (PSA) estimates 25 staff, many of whom are on casual contracts and who have been working at BASS for decades, are facing redundancies, with only about two staff to be kept on after the ticketing agency is sold to a private company.

The PSA and the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance say they are currently in talks with the Adelaide Festival Centre (AFC) to work through the redundancies and to determine whether the BASS brand name – which stands for Best Available Seating Service – will be retained.

The Festival Centre says it is “reviewing” the ticketing model at BASS as “the current contract for ticketing software is approaching expiration”, but details remain in confidence due to commercial reasons.

According to the BASS website, the box office is the “leading ticketing agency for arts and entertainment in South Australia” and services all Adelaide Festival Centre venues including the Festival Theatre, Dunstan Playhouse, Space Theatre, Amphitheatre, and Her Majesty’s Theatre, as well as some outdoor and sporting events.

It was established in 1977 and is owned and operated by the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust, which returns all BASS ticket sale profits back to the centre to support cultural and community projects in South Australia.

PSA assistant general secretary Natasha Brown told InDaily that the BASS box office provided a “valuable revenue stream” to the Festival Centre.

“We still have the highest rate of unemployment in this country but instead of protecting jobs we’re seeing them being cut and services sold off to private corporations,” she said.

“This sell-off will present a real problem for the many older South Australians who regularly frequent the Festival Centre.

“Everyone knows it’s next to impossible to speak to a human being when dealing with the major ticketing outlets who operate solely online.

“This (online) model simply doesn’t work for senior patrons who rely heavily on the personalised, face-to-face service provided at the Festival Centre.”

The AFC suffered a massive hit to its bottom line last financial year after its venues were forced to shut in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

My biggest concern is the Festival Centre is owned by the people of South Australia, but the Government seems to think they can just sell it (BASS) to whoever

According to the centre’s 2019-20 annual report, BASS refunded 19,560 tickets with a gross value of more than $2 million for the School of Rock Musical, which was due to open in March.

All up, 77 bookings for shows in AFC venues were either cancelled or postponed, resulting in more than $2.4 million in lost revenue from venue hire.

Further losses were incurred from the loss of ticketing, food and beverage, production and marketing services income.

In response, the Festival Centre Trust reduced its staffing by 58 per cent, including cutting 180 casual staff and six full-time and part-time employees.

One BASS worker, who did not want to be named, told InDaily they were stood down during the pandemic, but returned to work as a casual once restrictions relaxed and shows returned.

They said workers were told last Wednesday that BASS would be taken on by a private company by October and 25 employees would be made redundant, with only the manager and their second-in-command to be kept on.

The worker said they didn’t know who the private provider was, “but there are only two real options – Ticketek or Ticketmaster”.

This process is all about finding the best ticket price and functionality for South Australians

Ticketek bought out what was once Queensland’s BASS agency, while Ticketmaster bought out BASS Victoria, which was previously owned by the Victorian Government under the auspices of the Victorian Arts Centre Trust.

“My biggest concern is the Festival Centre is owned by the people of South Australia, but the Government seems to think they can just sell it (BASS) to whoever,” the worker said.

“BASS is part of the Festival Centre – it’s one of the oldest ticketing companies in the world – and I think we offer a fantastic service, we are constantly complimented on it compared to those big ticketing companies.

“Quite a few people have been working at BASS for 15 years or more – there’s a woman there who’s been working for 33 years (and) who’s too young to get a pension and too old to get another job.

“They were never offered permanency.”

The worker said employees were told bigger ticketing agencies had “much more sophisticated software” and BASS’ current software licence was reaching its expiry date.

“The software that we use is used by a lot of companies around the world and it’s owned by one of the biggest ticketing companies as well,” they said.

“It’s not software that’s outdated or outmoded, but that’s what they’re saying.”

The worker said they were “sick of governments touting these ideas that they are supporting the arts”.

“There aren’t many regular employment (opportunities) in the arts in South Australia and here’s one that they’ve actually decided to get rid of,” they said.

The PSA has called on Premier Steven Marshall, who is also Arts Minister to “abandon this privatisation”.

“The government failed to support the Festival Centre through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brown said.

“As Arts Minister, Steven Marshall now has an opportunity to demonstrate at least some commitment to his portfolio by abandoning this privatisation.”

InDaily contacted the Adelaide Festival Centre for comment.

A spokesperson said the centre was “reviewing” the ticketing model at BASS as “the current contract for ticketing software is approaching expiration”.

“This process is commercial in confidence,” they said.

“We are consulting with unions and staff on this matter and will continue to do so throughout this process.”

A state government spokesperson from Premier Steven Marshall’s office added that the process was “all about finding the best ticket price and functionality for South Australians”.

Opposition arts spokesperson Katrine Hildyard said the Government needed to ensure that South Australians’ access to arts was not reduced due to the “impending restructuring or closure of BASS”.

“This looks like another example of the Marshall Liberal Government’s privatisation agenda,” she said.

“They (the Government) must also ensure that members of the highly skilled BASS staff team, some of whom have served the community for more than 30 years, are appropriately supported at this difficult time.”

The Adelaide Festival Centre Trust is required by law to provide “ticketing systems and other related services” to entertainment and sporting events either within or outside South Australia under the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust Act 1971.

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