Union representatives at Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema were unfairly dismissed, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Workers at the Ritzy have been campaigning over several years to be paid the London Living Wage and for other employment rights. Its owners, the Picturehouse chain, part of the international Cineworld conglomerate, has steadfastly refused to budge or negotiate.
The finding of unfair dismissal applies to two of three Ritzy workers who took their case to the tribunal. The third had been employed for less than two years, was barred from taking a case by current employment law.
The three members of the tribunal agreed unanimously that the sackings had been unfair but, by a majority, decided that they were not automatically unfair due to victimisation for trade union activity.
Gerry Morrissey, head of the Ritzy workers’ trade union BECTU, said: “The judgement is clear that Picturehouse management showed a lack of neutrality and assumed the guilt of our representatives.
“We are very disappointed, however, by the tribunal’s 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.”
The sackings were ostensibly over an email in which the representatives said: “we are also going to have to start pushing cyber-pickets”. This is a potentially unlawful activity.
Six Ritzy representatives were investigated by Picturehouse in a process which led to three sackings in June 2017. A fourth representative was dismissed later and a further tribunal hearing in this case is pending.
The decision in the case of the two unfairly dismissed workers says that notes of the disciplinary meetings “show a lack of neutrality at the investigation and disciplinary stages”.
There was an assumption of guilt and during the disciplinary a Picturehouse regional manager stated that the onus was on the accused workers to prove, in effect, their innocence.
The decision also says: “There was a failure … at all stages of the process for the respondent [Picturehouse] to properly engage with the nature of the claimants’ defence. Further, we conclude that the penalties applied to both claimants were outside the band of reasonable responses.” The tribunal panel concluded: “Accordingly, in a number of respects the dismissals were unfair.”
A Ritzy workers’ representative 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. Since the sackings last year many striking sites have been chronically understaffed which puts huge strain on remaining staff members.”
Support for workers at the Ritzy Cinema and at Picturehouses in East Dulwich, Crouch End, Central London and Hackney continues to grow.
The workers are calling for a boycott of Picturehouse cinemas, which the Blog observes.
Lambeth council has worked with Picturehouse to build a new cinema at the Nettlefold Hall former library site in West Norwood, contributing at least £3.4 million towards an estimated total cost of about £6 million. In December 2014 it said it had “negotiated with Picturehouse that, in line with council policy, staff employed by the Picturehouse for the West Norwood cinema would be paid the equivalent of London Living Wage.”