Grab some popcorn, turn off your phone and make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Picturehouse Cinemas has reignited its ongoing industrial relations drama by announcing redundancies at its Ritzy cinema in Brixton just weeks after finally agreeing to increase pay.
Picturehouse began as an independent company, founded to 'challenge the multiplex model', but its chain of 20 cinemas was acquired by the silver screen giant Cineworld in 2012.
Ritzy workers have been campaigning for the chain to pay them the London Living Wage (£8.80 per hour) for more than a year. They went on strike and even got the backing of film directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh before management gave in in September and agreed to a 26% pay rise over three years.
But on Thursday bosses said they were launching a consultation into redundancies and expected to lose at least 20 of the Ritzy’s 93 staff. Unsurprisingly workers reacted with fury.
‘This is nothing short of a scandalous provocation which is set out to undermine a year’s worth of hard work to gain a bare minimum wage rise,’ a statement on the group’s Facebook page said. ‘[This is] nothing short of pure vindictive retaliation because we the workers showed that with determination and collectivity, we could effect change to make our lives that tiny bit more comfortable.’
Those who vehemently oppose a compulsory living wage will see this move as a clear indication of the effect such rules would have on unemployment in the economy as a whole. Ultimately, if a company can only afford to budget a certain amount for wages then it seems logical that jobs will have to go.
‘During the negotiation process it was discussed that the amount of income available to distribute to staff would not be increasing, and that the consequence of such levels of increase to pay rates would be fewer people with more highly paid jobs,’ Picturehouse said in a particularly frank statement.
But many consumer-oriented companies live or die by their brand. Looking mean can only be bad for the image of a business targeting a young, artsy clientele who could be thinking that a once-independent chain is being swallowed by its corporate parent.
With a fresh batch of strike action potentially on the cards and growing awareness of the campaign (Will Self has now, predictably, joined the scrum) it doesn’t look like Picturehouse will be landing the Oscar for industrial relations any time soon.