Many of our supporters will have seen a recent statement published on the Picturehouse Cinemas website regarding our current pay dispute with the company.
This statement contains a number of misrepresentations and continues to completely miss the point, as Head Office have throughout the lengthy negotiation process, on the London Living Wage or the daily realities of trying to survive on low pay.
First, the current negotiations cover all staff at the Ritzy, not just front of house or bar staff. This includes: BECTU members who produce the Ritzy’s fantastic brochures telling our customers about upcoming films and events, the original flyers and posters we produce for the cinema, and the wonderful art, decorations and props that regularly transform the Ritzy, most recently into Brixton’s very own version of the Grand Budapest Hotel for the launch of the new Wes Anderson film. It also includes BECTU members who work in the Kitchen, and who have worked hard in recent months to help drive up quality and consistency and helped the Ritzy keep it’s five star hygiene rating. It includes the staff who delight local children every weekend and school holiday with Kid’s club and Toddler time, and BECTU members who make the many fantastic events in the Upstairs bar such a success.
It’s unfortunate that Picturehouses chose to omit this information, we worry that, at best, whoever wrote the public statement is simply unaware of what BECTU members do and don’t realise the breadth of their contribution to the success of the Ritzy or, at worst, they may have been attempting to prey upon some perceived prejudices held by our customers towards people who are ‘merely’ bar staff and ushers. For the record we have absolute faith that the local community hold no such prejudices and see that our members who work busy, often demanding bar and front of house shifts, sometimes as late as 3:30am, are the lifeblood of the entire business and contribute just as much as anyone else.
All of these staff, union members, make The Ritzy what it is.
It is also interesting that Picturehouses have chosen to highlight that the London Living Wage equates to £18,304 a year for a 40 hour week. During our last meeting with them at ACAS on 14th February they specifically and repeatedly tried to argue that the London Living Wage was an odd measure to base our pay claim on because not many of our members work full time. It seems they have no qualms in using the very argument they sought to discredit when seemingly implying that cinema ushers and bar staff are not worthy of £18,304 a year.
Some of our members do indeed work 40 hours per week, and sometimes more. Most of those who don’t have to rely on income from one or two other jobs to make ends meet.
The London Living Wage, currently £8.80 per hour and £18,304 for someone working 40 hours per week, is set by the Living Wage Foundation, and is based upon an independent assessment of living costs in London. It factors in tax credits and benefits and gives an indication of the minimum level of earnings at which people can maintain a basic, decent standard of living. We strongly believe that all workers deserve to be paid at this level as an absolute minimum, we regret that Picturehouses appear to think only certain jobs are worthy of such a basic standard of living.
Contrary to the statement issued by Picturehouses we have never sought to resist fixed contracts for those who want them, we were simply unhappy that Picturehouses sought to introduce contractual changes without any consultation with BECTU. We have a recognition agreement, which covers all matters related to pay, hours and conditions affecting all staff, apart from the general manager. The fact that virtually everyone working at the Ritzy is a BECTU member and the regular members’ meetings we hold should be a clear indication that in rejecting new terms, imposed without consultation through BECTU, we are simply representing what staff want: proper consultation and agreement for any change to conditions of employment.
The assertion that Picturehouses are ‘one of the highest paying employers in Brixton’ is unsupported by any evidence and we would question whether any such evidence exists. As for the assertion that they are also among the highest paying employers in the cinema industry, we would state that employers such as the BFI (which receives public funding) and the BFI IMAX (which is run by the Odeon Group, and does not) pay their staff the London Living Wage and have seen real benefits. As have many other service sector employers. To quote a Guardian article from August last year: ‘Lush stores across London have paid the living wage since 2011. “Regardless of the woes that all us business people will tell you, there’s still no excuse”, says Hilary Jones, ethics director at Lush. “Retail is struggling, we are always complaining about rents and business rates. But that doesn’t mean we have the right not to pay a living wage for people that are working on the shop floor. But also it makes the business easier to run. Our rotoring has become easier, it’s easier to recruit, our staff aren’t as tired because some of them haven’t had to look for second or third jobs, they work harder, they are more enthusiastic…” She admits it was a costly move, adding almost £1m to the wage bill, but believes that money has been made back in increased staff performance and reduced recruitment costs.’
These are precisely the kind of arguments we put to Picturehouses at ACAS in February, they were simply ignored.
Despite Picturehouses’ assertion that they are trying to achieve the London Living Wage, they rejected a possible compromise put forward by our reps to work towards it over the course of almost two years during our most recent negotiations, and failed to offer any indication of when our members might be paid the London Living Wage. We last went on strike for the London Living Wage in 2007, meaning Picturehouses have already had 7 years to work towards it. Under such circumstances we fail to see how the claim that they are ‘trying to negotiate a way to achieve’ the Living Wage is credible.
Picturehouses are now part of the largest chain of cinemas (by number of screens) in Europe, and they are currently hoping to invest about £20 million in new cinemas in the UK, including plans for five new cinemas in London alone. We are simply asking that they invest similarly in their staff, who after all are the very lifeblood of the business.
As ever, we remain open to talking to Picturehouses and trying to resolve this dispute without having to resort to strike action but our members have repeatedly made clear that they are no longer willing to live on such low pay whilst the profits of The Ritzy continue to rise (by 140% in 2012 alone according to accounts submitted to Companies House by Picturehouses).
Unlike Cineworld Group PLC, we do not have a corporate PR department, and we can only hope that our customers will continue to see through the excuses and obfuscations of our employers and support Ritzy staff in our struggle for a Living Wage and a fair share in the incredible success of the business.
Thanks for your continued support!