Ritzy staff ballot for strike action

Ritzy workers' banner at the 2016 Lambeth Country Show
Ritzy workers’ banner at this year’s Lambeth Country Show

Members of the entertainment workers’ union BECTU who work at The Ritzy in Brixton are being asked to vote “Yes” in a ballot for industrial action which began yesterday and closes on 30 August.

Union members at the cinema have been engaged in a long-running campaign to win the London Living Wage (LLW), currently £9.40 per hour.

BECTU tabled a pay claim to achieve that goal, but, says the union, Picturehouse Cinemas, the employer, refused to engage in negotiations and simply rejected the claim in its entirety, leaving the union with no choice but to ballot for industrial action.

The union says the company also ignored its offer of talks at the conciliation service ACAS.

The current minimum rate at The Ritzy is £8.80 an hour – some way short of the current LLW.

As well as seeking the new minimum rate of pay, BECTU’s rejected claim also addressed pay differentials, treatment of new staff, maternity and paternity leave, and night pay.

BECTU assistant general secretary Luke Crawley said the union had tried to talk to Picturehouse Ltd, “but the company are being very hard-faced in ignoring our pay claim”.

He said union members at The Ritzy have shown how strong they could be when working together.

“No one wants to go on strike and we would rather settle this by talking, but the company has ignored our offer,” said Crawley.

Ritzy staff protesting in 2014
Ritzy staff protesting in 2014

In 2014 BECTU members at the Ritzy fought a long and successful high profile campaign (including 13 strikes) in pursuit of the London Living Wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.

The campaign made extensive use of social media and also involved the Brixton community in highlighting the unfairness of the company’s position.

After lengthy talks, union members voted to accept a package which moved them very close to achieving their goal and left the door open for further talks this year.

Since 2014, BECTU has been seeking recognition for staff employed by Picturehouse Ltd at other cinemas. Despite success in recruiting them, the company has refused to accept BECTU as the union to represent its staff, preferring to talk to an in-house staff association.

Crawley said: “This looks set to be a re-run of the successful campaign in 2014” which, he said, exposed the “bad attitude” of the company and caused it significant reputational damage.

“Rather than suffer further humiliation the company should sit down and talk to us about paying the London Living Wage to their staff at The Ritzy,” he said.