Living Wage campaigners protesting outside Hackney Picturehouse in 2014
Living Wage campaigners protesting outside Hackney Picturehouse in 2014

Disgruntled Hackney Picturehouse staff are set to down tools this Saturday in protest against the cinema’s refusal to pay them the London Living Wage.

They are demanding the Mare Street cinema ups staff wages to at least £9.40 an hour, a figure independently calculated as the basic cost of living in the capital.

The current rate of pay for front-of-house Picturehouse staff in London is £8.77 an hour plus £1 commission for every membership sold or renewed.

The cinema workers are also calling on Picturehouse to grant “adequate sick pay, maternity and paternity pay” as well as recognition of their chosen trade union.

This Saturday the strikers will be demonstrating outside Hackney Town Hall in a programme consisting of music and speeches, with “generally excellent vibes” promised.

Members of The Ritzy Living Wage campaign will be there in solidarity, after they last week disrupted the BFI London Film Festival in a march on central London.

Staff at the Ritzy have already managed to secure a higher wage than employees at other Picturehouse cinemas, with those working front-of-house receiving a flat rate of £9.10 an hour.

Both cinemas are part of the Picturehouse cinema chain – owned by screen giant Cineworld – which posted after tax profits of £81.3 million during 2015.

Ritzy staff are represented by media and entertainment union Bectu, whereas representation in other Picturehouse cinemas, including Hackney, is provided by the Picturehouse staff Forum.

The Forum is a collective bargaining unit set up by Picturehouse Cinemas that the strikers argue lacks the independence of their preferred union, Bectu. 

A statement on the A Living Wage for Hackney Picturehouse Staff campaign page read: “Cineworld/Picturehouse is a company that can easily afford to become a living wage employer and still run a massive profit. It is a company that can easily afford to give a pay rise which would greatly improve the health of its workers.

“If they won’t give it to us then we are going take it.”

Alisdair Cairns, a staff member at Hackney Picturehouse and a Bectu representative, told the Hackney Citizen: “After the Ritzy workers’ strikes in 2014, it became clear to us at Hackney that we had the power to change a situation that was so obviously wrong.

“We’ve worked hard to get to where we are now. We hope by joining forces with the Ritzy we can inspire not just other Picturehouse workers or other cinema workers, but people being paid poverty wages everywhere to take action. Everyone deserves a wage that is enough to live on.

Picturehouse management have refused to pay us Living Wage, they have refused to recognise our chosen trade union, and they have refused even to meet with us to discuss these matters.

Regrettably, we have been left with no option but to go on strike.”

But in a statement, a spokesperson for Hackney Picturehouse pointed out that the decision to strike was taken by a minority of staff.

“We negotiate pay rates each year with the Forum and negotiations for 2017 have not yet started.  We are therefore disappointed by the decision of a minority of staff, 26 out of 82, who voted for strike action on Saturday 15 October,” the spokesperson said.

“Increases in pay for front of house people in Picturehouse Cinemas have far outstripped inflation over the last three years.

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

At the UK premiere last month of his new film, I, Daniel Blake, director Ken Loach threw his weight behind the strikers.

He said: “Picturehouse is owned by Cineworld which is a big multinational corporation. They make fortunes. The idea that they pay starvation wages because they can get people who are desperate for work is absolutely shocking.”

It will not the first time that Hackney Picturehouse has been in the firing line over failure to pay the London Living Wage.

In June 2014, footballing legend Eric Cantona, who was in Hackney for a film screening and Q&A, lent his support to strikers outside the cinema, and the following Christmas the cinema was awarded a ‘Scrooge of the Year’ award by London Living Wage campaigners.

The London Living Wage, which is set independently and updated annually, recommends businesses pay London workers £9.40 per hour and is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the capital.

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