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 yesterday, 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. 

Profit-making

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.

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. 

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. 

BECTU is preparing a tribunal claim

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.”

Victoria Phillips, head of employment rights (client relations) at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “No worker should be punished for simply fulfilling their duty as a trade union representative and reporting discussions to their colleagues. BECTU has reason to believe these members have been dismissed as a result of their trade union activities which is unacceptable.

“The union has spent many months backing its members in their attempt to secure a fair wage for their work at the cinemas. Thompsons will be providing support to BECTU and its members in forthcoming Employment Tribunal claims and seeking their full reinstatement.”

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.

"No worker should be punished for simply fulfilling their duty as a trade union representative and reporting discussions to their colleagues. BECTU has reason to believe these members have been dismissed as a result of their trade union activities which is unacceptable."

Victoria Phillips, head of employment rights (client relations) at Thompsons Solicitors