In a terrible blow to our local cinema, staff at the Ritzy Cinema were told this week that around a quarter of them stand to be made redundant.
Plans to axe a minimum of 20 jobs were presented to staff at a meeting on Thursday October 23, with union representatives only informed of the news late the night before.
In an extraordinary move, just a few weeks after a campaign to get the Living Wage for staff was finally resolved, the Picturehouse company plan to reduce their staff of 93 by at least 20 people, getting rid of the positions of two managers, all eight supervisors, three technical staff, and numerous front of house and bar staff. Although Picturehouses have recently boasted of the Ritzy being one of the few cinemas able to screen Interstellar on 35mm film, it now aims to potentially get rid of all of its five projectionists and install a fully automated system.
Staff will meet with the company again on Tuesday to negotiate but if the proposals remains the same, then a consultation period of a minimum of 30 days will start on November 3 and redundancies are then expected to begin around the end of November. Staff would be re-interviewed for their existing jobs.
Some have read the move as punishment for the Ritzy staff campaign for the London Living Wage earlier this year, which led to repeated strikes at the cinema. The campaigners finally came to an agreement with the Picturehouse company in September.
Nia Hughes, staff representative, said: “I feel like it’s a really brutal attack on a workforce. No other site is looking to restructure. No other site is having redundancies, so it can be perceived that it is direct victimization [due to the Living Wage campaign]. We will stand up to this and we will fight against any single person being made redundant.”
In a document handed out to staff last week, the company justified the redundancies by saying “the Ritzy currently has the lowest customer satisfaction of all the Picturehouse Cinemas”.
This ‘customer satisfaction’ was measured through reports from ‘mystery shoppers’ in the period between May and September, also the period when staff were striking and campaigning for a London Living Wage.
The document states: “we can deliver much better customer service if we create a multi-skilled team of people all of whom can provide whatever a customer needs – from buying a ticket to an appropriate wine recommendation and a perfect coffee – and who can be deployed around the building flexibly during shifts to meet customer demand”.
“Employing a smaller number of people with increased time commitment will bring a number of benefits to the cinema.”
On their campaign page, ‘A Living Wage for Ritzy Staff’, described the move as “what can only be described as a cynical attempt to ‘improve customer service’”. Nia told the Blog: “we think it’s completely misrepresentative. The mystery shopper was enforced on us because it’s the way our bonuses are paid. It’s incredibly confusing because we mostly have really great rapport with customers and many customers we have known for years.”
Picturehouse Cinemas refused to comment to the Blog due to the fact that they are still negotiating with staff, but pointed to a page on their website on the matter which states:
“The staff at The Ritzy recently agreed a pay package with Picturehouse Cinemas, which includes substantial pay increases across four years. 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.
“The new General Manager at The Ritzy has been tasked with improving many areas of The Ritzy’s performance. This includes taking a fresh look at the staffing structures…There are several proposals which are being openly discussed directly with all Ritzy staff (not just those in a union), and with BECTU as the collective representatives of the staff. No decisions have been made. As the extent of changes, if any, is not known, the company is following a statutory redundancy consultation procedure. We do not consider it is appropriate to comment further whilst internal discussions with the staff are in progress.”
In a letter posted online to Alastair Oatey, the director of operations at Picturehouse Cinemas, a BECTU representative argued that the redundancies go against an agreement signed in July between the union and the company. In this agreement, the company agreed that “working patterns for existing staff will be maintained” and that “the company welcomes the commitment from the negotiating team to work in partnership with the Picturehouse management team to restore good will.”
Staff have also pointed out that there is no evidence of financial problems at the Ritzy and that it regularly pulls in the largest monthly profits.