Picturehouse staff are still being paid poverty wages

Picturehouse's rising profits contradict their claim that they can't afford to pay higher wages.

Picturehouse’s rising profits contradict their claim that they cannot afford to pay higher wages

Imagine if the usher tearing your ticket at the cinema is paid less per hour than the cost of a glass of wine at the same cinema.

While you’re relaxing and enjoying yourself they’re not earning enough to survive, and all this in a business profitable enough to be opening a new venues in Piccadilly Circus. Welcome to the world of Picturehouse.

The cinema sector in the United Kingdom is a low wage employer with most of the big chains paying at or only just above the National Minimum Wage, which is now £6.50 per hour (less if you are under 21). Things are a little better at independent cinemas, though not by much.

BECTU is the recognised trade union at The Ritzy Cinema in Brixton (owned by Picturehouse), and the strength and determination of our members has led to a protracted dispute with 13 strikes and huge support locally, on social media, and in the press.

The ending of the dispute was messy, with mistakes in the amounts of back pay and then a punishing threat from the management to make more than a third of staff redundant.

Public outrage as well as the threat of a strike ballot by BECTU members has caused the company to back down for now, but they are still refusing to give any guarantees that they will stick to the agreement reached at ACAS or to guarantee employment as far as next year.

Picturehouse have argued that they cannot afford the pay increases for staff that were agreed at ACAS,  despite the fact that last year their operating profits rose by 31 per cent to £1.3 million. They have hired an agent with a reputation as a union buster and all attempts to engage in talks have to go through him. You can understand why we think this is a fragile peace.

Picturehouse has cinemas across the country from Edinburgh to Exeter and BECTU has been recruiting across the chain. At the Clapham Picturehouse in London and The Duke of York and the Dukes at Komedia in Brighton we have enough members to want to talk to the company about union recognition and better pay. So far they have put off any requests for a meeting.

The people who work for Picturehouses in Brighton, Clapham and across the country love their jobs and they love film, but they are paid poverty wages. They do not benefit from the agreement struck at the Ritzy. Nor do they benefit from working for a successful and profitable company.

Other independent cinemas are able to afford the Living Wage with Curzon Cinemas (where BECTU is the recognised union) recently implementing the Living Wage and the London Living Wage at all their cinemas in London and across the UK.

People working in cinemas and elsewhere are fed up with working for starvation wages and they are joining unions and organising to fight for higher pay. We are building on the successful Ritzy campaign with a petition calling on Picturehouse to recognise BECTU and start talks about paying the Living Wage to all their staff.

By signing the petition you can help us put pressure on the management to win recognition and a decent living wage for all our Picturehouse members.

Luke Crawley is assistant general secretary at BECTU. Follow him on Twitter

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