Brixton cinema staff continue strike action as threat of sack looms

As Bectu strike action enters its second year, staff of the Brixton Ritzy cinema are making some serious noise, and garnering increasingly high-profile support in the process.

The disputes – primarily over pay – have been on the public radar for some time, and in recent months names such as Sir Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, have thrown their weight behind the union.

This is largely due to the protests surrounding the London Film Festival, organised and carried out by the embattled staff members, in an attempt to highlight the poor conditions imposed upon those working on the ground in the cinema industry.

Kelly Rogers, a sacked Bectu representative and former front-of house staff member at the Ritzy, said that Picturehouse was creating an “atmosphere of intimidation and fear” in trying to put an end to the union action.

A letter from Picturehouse lawyers sent to the union ahead of the London Film Festival, stated that the cinema company was “minded to dismiss any employee who takes part in the strikes.”

Yet strike they did, and as yet no member of any of the Picturehouse cinemas involved – the Ritzy, Crouch End, Hackney, East Dulwich and Central Picturehouses – has yet been sacked.

“We called their bluff,” said Ms Rogers.

At the heart of the issue, and one that is being differently interpreted on either side of the dispute, is the London Living Wage.

Currently, Ritzy front-of-house staff are earning £9.10 per hour, which is currently 65p under the living wage.

“We worked out that if they gave us all a 30% pay rise, it will cost them £20m a year,” said Ms Rogers. “We know that this is a lot, but not if you make that much profit a year.”

Picturehouse is however insistent that they do pay minimum wage, and then some. As staff are paid for their 30 minute breaks, they maintain that the total earned per hour at the end of an eight hour shift is in fact £9.92.

Union members are quick to point out that they are still technically on call during said break times, and maintain that the London Living Wage should be met, and assessed in line with worker pay when the living wage increases, with a review due in November.

“At the end of the day, we just want a fair wage,” said Ms Rogers. “Picturehouse aren’t even talking to us.”

Actor Andrew Garfield voiced his support for the workers earlier this month.

He said: “It’s awful. It’s indicative of every aspect of our culture now, this massive social divide.”

Picturehouse were not available for comment when contacted by SW Londoner.

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