Brixton Ritzy told it must reinstate sacked living wage campaigners

Ritzy staff protesting in Windrush Square after the sackings were announced
Ritzy staff protesting in Windrush Square after the sackings were announced

TWO staff members at Brixton’s Ritzy cinema who were sacked for organising the campaign of strikes for a living wage have won their jobs back.

The two activists in the broadcast and theatre union BECTU won a tribunal case in July that they had been unfairly dismissed, and today (5 December) the tribunal followed up with an order that they must be reinstated onto the staff in January.

It is a major victory for BECTU and the Ritzy workers in their long fight to be paid the London Living Wage.

It is very rare for sacked workers to get their jobs back; as a rule tribunals award them compensation, since employers do not want to take them back.

The Ritzy is part of the Picturehouse group, itself owned by the US-based Cineworld corporation. In the first six months of this year Cineworld made profits before tax of $160 million (£125 million) – a 164% rise on the previous half-year. But it will not pay the Ritzy staff the current London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour.

The 90-plus workers have held dozens of days of strikes since 2014 to pursue this sum.

They organised a series of lively days of action, sometimes with the support of colleagues from other Picturehouse sites, and they won an agreement from Picturehouse management to negotiate it by June 2016, but the company back-tracked.

In July the Employment Tribunal in Croydon ruled that the way Picturehouse had sacked the union reps was unfair.

It said the company had shown “a lack of neutrality and an assumption of guilt on the part of the claimants …. putting the onus was on them to prove in effect their innocence  … There was a failure for the respondent to properly engage with the nature of the claimants defence.”

The judgment went on: “All members of the tribunal agree that the background union activities of the claimants played a part in the decision-making of the respondent. “

On their reinstatement, it said the workers were “capable of working in a professional and mature manner” if they went back.

Sacked union reps (l-r)Tom McKain, Marc Cowan and Natalie Parsons outside the Ritzy in Brixton
Sacked union reps (l-r)Tom McKain, Marc Cowan and Natalie Parsons outside the Ritzy in Brixton

The Ritzy sacked four union reps in July 2017; one did not proceed with a case and a fourth lacked the two years’ service in the job required to take a case to a tribunal.

Head of BECTU Philippa Childs said: “This is an extremely rare ruling and, once again, highlights the unreasonable behaviour of Picturehouse towards BECTU’s representatives.

“These individuals have been leading BECTU activists and their reinstatement will bolster the campaign for Picturehouse staff to be paid the Living Wage.

“BECTU urges Picturehouse to look closely at these rulings and start to engage with us and the Living Wage campaign and for the union to be fully recognised.”

There have been no strikes at the Ritzy since September, but many Brixtonians have been boycotting the cinema in support of the staff.

A supporter congratulates John McDonnell om his speech
A supporter congratulates shadow chancellor John McDonnell on a speech outside the Ritzy – many leading politicians and cinema figures have backed the campaign