Do cinema staff deserve a living wage?

Far from picture perfect

Far from picture perfect

The Duke of Yorks in Preston Circus Brighton, is one of the city’s best known landmarks.

Although the famous can-can legs are a recent addition – they were acquired in 1991 – the cinema has been in business since 1910 and remains the nation’s longest continually operating movie house. Alongside the Dukes at Komedia in Gardner Street, it is a magnet for cineastes.

The clientele think of themselves as informed and intelligent movie goers, as enthusiastic about a new print of a Truffaut classic as the latest Tarantino gore-fest.

They may be less keen about the fact that bosses at the chain refuse to pay their workers a the Living wage

In December 2012, as reported in The Argus, Cineworld snapped up Picturehouse, in a £47.3 million deal.

According to Bectu, the media and entertainment union,  Cineworld’s  trading figures showed a significant increase in revenue over the four months to the end of March 2014.

It said box office income was up 6.8% compared with 2013, and retails sales, which account for about a quarter of all revenues, was up by 8.2%.

In Brighton and Hove, the city council and the chamber of commerce have joined forces to persuade businesses to sign up to pay their workers a decent hourly wage. The Duke of Yorks is not among the supporters of the Brighton Living Wage campaign.

Workers at the Ritzy, in Brixton, which is also part of the Picturehouse chain,  are taking strike action to to raise wages from £7.24 per hour to £8.80.

Gabriel Swartland, head of marketing and PR at Picturehouse, told me: “We don’t currently pay a base wage matching the Living Wage. We have weekly bonus schemes and sales schemes that mean our staff can earn in excess of the Living Wage.”

The leader of the Green Party nationally, Natalie Bennett, has backed call for a boycott of all UK cinemas operated by Picture House but in Brighton the support for the low-paid workers is more muted. The party spokesman said: “The Green administration has been working with local businesses to persuade them of the value of the Living Wage. We invited the local Chamber of Commerce to spearhead the campaign to get businesses involved and this has helped shape the success of our city with 129 businesses signing up so far. We hope the Picturehouse reviews its policies and starts to pay their employees the living wage.”

Both the Conservative and Labour Groups at the council have said they prefer persuasion over action in order to get a decent wage for the cinema’s knowledgeable and helpful staff.

It took statutory action to get a national minimum wage  guaranteed – the legislators recognsied that non-union labour was vulnerable to the whims of employers who may or may not have been minded to behave decently.

Brighton’s Living Wage campaign is well-meaning but lacks clout. There will always be employers who remain impervious to the most compelling arguments in favour of paying the workers properly.

It’s a fact the cinema’s customers could have pondered as waited for the screening on June 24 of “An Episode in The Life of an Iron Picker”, a hard-hitting documentary about workers struggling to eke out a living in  an uncaring society


This article was first published in The Argus on July 5, 2014