Magazine article Screen International

What the Picturehouse Pay Dispute Means for the UK Exhibition Industry

Magazine article Screen International

What the Picturehouse Pay Dispute Means for the UK Exhibition Industry

Article excerpt

The pay dispute at Picturehouse Cinemas hit the headlines when striking workers targeted last month’s LFF.

Ken Loach at the Picturehouse strike

A weekday evening midway through the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) and the protesters are out in force at Picturehouse Cinemas’ seven-screen flagship, Picturehouse Central, near London’s Piccadilly Circus, forming a picket line and chanting.

Alongside the protesting Picturehouse staff on this particular evening is double Palme d’Or-winning UK director Ken Loach. “It’s a very important dispute and is marked by the Picturehouse workers’ determination to get their due, which is a proper wage,” Loach tells Screen. “They [the picketers] are a wonderful, cheerful, brave group of people, mainly young, who risk their jobs to get proper pay. I have huge respect for them.”

The picket is good-natured. Loach, who is giving out leaflets on behalf of the strikers, says it is effective too. Some would-be cinemagoers turn away. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki hears about the dispute and promptly cancels the Q&A for his Elvis Presley documentary Promised Land in support of the strike. One of the UK’s most famous screen celebrities, Benedict Cumberbatch, is photographed outside the cinema holding “Living Staff Living Wages” and “Boycott Picturehouse” leaflets.

The protests, which organisers billed as “the biggest cinema workers’ campaign in UK history”, were the continuation of a long-running dispute between management and staff over pay and conditions at Picturehouse. The standoff was embarrassing for the LFF and provoked awkward questions for the BFI.

For example, the protesters wanted to know why the BFI, which supported the Living Wage Foundation (the organisation setting an hourly wage based on the cost of living) and paid its own cinema staff at BFI Southbank the London Living Wage or above, was working so closely with an exhibitor that refused to honour the same principles. (The London Living Wage is £9.75 ($12.85) per hour at the time of writing but expected to rise by 30-40p in November. Nationally, the Real Living Wage is £8.45 per hour. The statutory National Living Wage for over-25s is currently £7.50.)

Nia Hughes

“They [the BFI] have known about our campaign since 2014,” says Nia Hughes, organising official at the BECTU sector of Prospect, the union representing the strikers (but which Picturehouse management refuses to recognise at many venues). “Their association with Picturehouse is bad for their reputation.”

In response, the BFI said this was an employment dispute in which “it had no involvement or jurisdiction”. “We pay the London Living Wage and we encourage others to do the same. We hoped the dispute was going to be resolved as quickly and amicably as possible,” a BFI spokesperson tells Screen.

The dispute has been running in one form or another since 2007, when workers at the Picturehouse-owned Ritzy Cinema in Brixton campaigned for increased wages and union recognition. …

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