THREE union representatives at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton have been dismissed by Picturehouse in a move described by their trade union BECTU as trade union dismissals.
A fourth representative has received a final written warning. BECTU, a sector of the 140,000 strong Prospect union, has warned that management’s action, confirmed to the representatives on Wednesday 14 June, could escalate the already entrenched industrial dispute between BECTU and Picturehouse.
The three reps were dismissed as a result of an email they sent to union members reporting discussions at a union meeting. The disciplinary action comes after BECTU representatives renewed their high profile campaign to secure the Living Wage at Picturehouse, a leading art house cinema chain, which claims to be both progressive and ethical.
More than 50 strikes have been held since September 2016 and the dispute has grown to include workers at six Picturehouse venues: Picturehouse Central, Hackney Picturehouse, Crouch End Picturehouse, East Dulwich Picturehouse, Brighton’s Duke of York’s and the Brixton Ritzy.
The Picturehouse group, owned by cinema giant Cineworld, the second largest circuit in Europe, is profit-making and can afford to pay the Living Wage. The UK Living Wage Foundation sets rates each November; the current rates are £9.75 an hour in London and £8.45 outside London with more and more companies adopting the benchmarks.
Picturehouse staff in London, where living costs continue to rise, are paid £9.10 an hour at the Ritzy and £9.05 an hour at other venues. In 2015 Cineworld posted profits of £83.8million, followed in 2016 by pre-tax profits of £98million. Cineworld CEO, Mooky Greidenger earned £1.2million in 2015, or £575 an hour. In 2016, the CEO”s anual pay escalated to £2.5million.
Despite growing support for the Living Staff Living Wage campaign from the creative community, both at home and abroad, and from Picturehouse patrons, many of whom have refused to renew their membership until the company pays the Living Wage, management has consistently refused to negotiate on the union’s pay and conditions claims.
Gerry Morrissey, head of BECTU, said: ‘We believe that our reps at the Ritzy have been dismissed due to their trade union membership and activities and we will challenge these decisions in the strongest terms.
‘Our reps across Picturehouse have been fighting for fair pay and for dignity at work. Our first step in supporting our reps will be to launch Employment Tribunal claims and to seek interim relief for these trade union dismissals.
‘We have been ready to negotiate with the employer since last June. Instead we’ve met with stone-walling from a management which claims to be community-minded but which has refused to negotiate at every turn, even rejecting an approach from ACAS, the government’s conciliation service.
‘Management won’t break the dispute by disciplining and sacking our reps; we urge the company to put their energies into resolving this dispute and into restoring their battered reputation.’
Picturehouse now falls behind competitors, Curzon Cinemas, which adopted the Living Wage in 2014 after a campaign by BECTU.
BECTU will seek interim relief in the employment tribunals to challenge these dismissals for trade union activity. If the Employment Tribunal rules in favour of the BECTU reps the employer could be ordered either to reinstate the individuals, to place them at an alternative site or to suspend them on full pay, pending a full hearing. The union’s commitment to the dispute is undiminished.
BECTU reps across the Picturehouse chain are preparing for further strike action. The union will soon serve notice of further stoppages on Saturday 1 July and Friday 7 July.
• BECTU and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) announced on Tuesday that they are delighted that the National Union of Journalists has joined the boycott of the broadcasters’ Project Diamond diversity initiative. The boycott aims to pressurise the broadcasters to agree to issue programme-level diversity data. This means that three national trade unions are now boycotting the initiative: BECTU (which is now a sector of Prospect), WGGB, and now the NUJ.
The boycott arose after almost a year of discussions with the broadcasters and the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) over their joint equality monitoring initiative. The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky are for the first time undertaking equality monitoring of all those working on productions commissioned by them, which has been widely welcomed.
The dispute lies in the broadcasters’ determination to keep secret any data that would identify how well individual productions have fared in employing a diverse workforce. Minority ethnic professionals in all three unions believe from their own experience that the major problems faced by minority ethnic workers are the attitudes and hiring practices that confront them throughout their careers.
The three unions are supporting their view that only by publishing the Project Diamond equality monitoring data by production can we identify who is succeeding at hiring a diverse workforce, so the industry can learn from their example, and who is failing to do so, enabling intervention to put it right.
BECTU chief Gerry Morrissey commented: ‘We take no pleasure in having to boycott the broadcasters’ diversity plan but they left us with no alternative. Black broadcasting professionals are adamant, after decades of discrimination, that the only way to deal with discrimination and under-representation once and for all is to shine a light on the problem so we can see where the industry is failing.
‘After months and months of discussions with the broadcasters and CDN, including the broadcasters’ face to face meeting with black members’ representatives of BECTU and the NUJ, it is completely unacceptable for the broadcasters to totally dismiss the considered views of ethnic minority professionals, when implementing a scheme that was supposed to be assisting them.
‘The broadcasters’ message appears to be that they will address race discrimination their way, and only their way, whether black workers like it or not. The NUJ joining forces with BECTU and the Writers’ Guild in the boycott sends a message to the broadcasters that this issue is not going away. We want Project Diamond to work, but until they agree to greater transparency it simply won’t.’
WGGB Acting General Secretary Ellie Peers commented: ‘It has transpired that Project Diamond has been set up on the premise that programme-level data cannot be shared with trade unions, even in confidence. It has always been and remains our intention to work with broadcasters to address inequality, to improve the opportunities for women, minority ethnic, working class, disabled and other underrepresented freelance writers within broadcasting.
‘The sharing of data is only stage one, the really hard graft comes afterwards – to effect positive, long-term change within broadcasting. We have met resistance and a barrage of excuses to justify not sharing programme-level data from CDN, none of which stand up to scrutiny. Whilst this continues, it’s not that surprising that an increasing number of trade unions have decided to boycott the project.’