Ritzy Strikes Back! Cinema staff shut up shop as ‘last resort’ over London living wage and sick pay row

Ritzy cinema staff were again on strike on Saturday as relations with management over an ongoing wage dispute began to turn sour.

Around 30 staff members, composed of front-of-house employees, technicians and supervisors, joined together from noon to 5pm on Sunday to fight for the living wage, a campaign which has lasted for more than two years.

As they waved flags, distributed flyers and staged a ‘Ritzy strikes back’ lightsaber fight on Windrush Square, staff made clear that the strike was a ‘last resort’.

Ritzy union rep Kelly Rogers, 23, said: “None of us want to go on strike and none of us want this to be a long thing, but if we’re going to make it short and sweet then it’s going to have to be impressive strikes.

“Hopefully management will come back round the table, that’s what we all want – to be able to negotiate with them.”

The four points that Ritzy staff want to see implemented are, London living wage, company sick pay, maternity and paternity pay and fair pay rises for senior staff.

Entertainment trade union BECTU supported strike action after hearing that management refused to negotiate with the staff’s pay claim.

After a series of 13 strikes in 2014, an agreement had been reached between BECTU and management that pay would be raised to £9.10 and, over the following two years, models for implementing the living wage would be trialled and discussed.

It later proved that this was not the case, Miss Rogers explained: “Going back into negotiations this time round, we asked them ‘what have you done to make it possible to implement the living wage?’ And they said ‘nothing we have no intention of paying you the living wage’.

“We still deserve it and still need it, so we’re back out on strike again.”

Though Cineworld were unwilling to directly respond to these claims, Managing Director Lyn Goleby released a statement which was posted outside the cinema on Saturday.

After re-iterating the agreement from 2014, it reads: “We are therefore disappointed by the decision of a minority of staff at the Ritzy not to honour this agreement and instead vote for strike action on 24 September.

“Our staff are hugely important to us, we pay fair wages and have a wide range of benefits within a good working environment.”

Both of these posters were covered in graffiti by strikers who amended the ‘wide range of benefits’ to a ‘wide range of popcorn’ and replaced ‘minority of staff’ with ‘majority of staff’.

Though management seem insistent that the strike is merely the work of a small clique, the turnout on Saturday and ballot results beg to differ.

Supervisor Jack Shepherd said: “They’ve put a really shitty message to the public about it saying it was a minority vote and they tried to negotiate with us but we refused. It was all the other way round.

“We tried to negotiate with them and literally got laughed at as we were trying to talk through this very serious thing.”

The numbers are supported by a statement released by BECTU last week: “Members voted by a majority of 93% to take strike action in support of the claim for the London Living Wage and for improvements to other key terms including sick and maternity pay.”

Ritzy staff also confirmed that they have around 80% union membership at the cinema, something which Ritzy supporter and trade unionist Tom Hobbert described as ‘absolutely amazing’ in the service industry.

The BECTU release added that ‘unrest is also growing at other Picturehouse venues’, with Hackney Picturehouse due to ballot for strike action on 6 October.

Staff at the Ritzy expect that other Cineworld picturehouses around London including the Central and Clapham branches will join the campaign over the coming months.

Joel Grizzle, who has worked at the cinema since last December, also spoke of the support that Brixton residents have given the campaign.

He stated that people have handed back their memberships and have, in the past, responded to calls to boycott the cinema.

Several other campaigns were present at the strike, including representatives from Unison trade union and the Dulwich and West Norwood Labour Party.

Miss Rogers concluded by pledging reciprocal support to other campaigns throughout London, she said: “One of the things that has galvanised us is that we have to do it, because we need to see an end to low-pay culture.”

Picture and video by George Shankar

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