This cinema giant was found acting unlawfully against its workers

And employment tribunal has found Picturehouse Cinemas - the owner of the infamous Ritzy cinema in south London - guilty of unfairly dismissing its staff.

Cinema workers union BECTU has revealed today that its campaign against Picturehouse has made some major progress today, as the cinema giant was found guilty of unfair dismissal. 

The Employment Tribunals heard the complaints of three former members of staff at the Ritzy cinema, in Brixton, south London.

The workers were sacked in June 2017, following an ongoing dispute with the employer over earning a living wage of £10.20 an hour.

The tribunal found unanimously that two of the three complainants had been unfairly dismissed and that the workers’ trade union involvement “played a part in the decision-making of” Picturehouse management when sacking them.

The tribunal panel argued that Picturhouse lacked neutrality in their investigation prior to the dismissal, saying:

“In substance, however, the notes of the meetings show a lack of neutrality at the investigation and disciplinary stages. There was an assumption of guilt on the part of the claimants and, expressly during the disciplinary meeting, Mr O’Connor [Picturehouse Regional Manager] stated that the onus was on them to prove in effect their innocence.”

The union celebrated the milestone in what is the longest-running labour dispute in the history of British cinema.

BECTU members from five London cinemas have been waging a 21-month-long campaign against their employer not only over the living wage, but also over company sick pay, parental pay, and pay rises for certain members of staff.

Cineworld, the parent company of Picturehouse Cinemas, made a cool post-tax profit of £93.8 million in 2016. Yet it is refusing to to pay its London staff the rate defined by the Living Wage Foundation as the minimum necessary to make do in the capital.

Commenting on the ruling Gerry Morrissey, BECTU general secretary, said:

“We’re obviously satisfied that the tribunals have found that our members were right to bring the complaint of unfair dismissal. The judgment is clear that Picturehouse management showed a lack of neutrality and assumed the guilt of our representatives.

“We are very disappointed, however, by the tribunals finding that our representatives’ trade union activity was not central to Picturehouse’s decision to dismiss. We find this hard to accept given the leading role which Ritzy representatives have played in our long-running dispute with the company. We believe that the company took advantage of the circumstances to dismiss BECTU activists.”

Two of the dismissed Ritzy workers are now due compensation by the employer, but a meeting set to determine this is yet to be agreed.

A leading spokesperson from the Picturehouse workers said:

“If anyone should be fired for dishonesty it is Picturehouse and Cineworld bosses. It’s now proven by the tribunal that they were biased from the beginning. Also since the sackings last year many striking sites have been chronically understaffed which puts huge strain on remaining staff members.”

The Picturehouse workers struggle had gathered the support of several public figures across the years, including actors Susan Sarandon and Sir Patrick Stewart, and British director Ken Loach. Politicians too have voiced their backing for the cause, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Joana Ramiro is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. She can be found on Twitter here

Picture credit: Marc Cowan

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