West End Extra
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Film-maker joins Ken Loach and Mike Leigh in fight over 'fair pay' for arthouse cinema staff
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
19 December, 2013
A FILM-MAKER has boycotted a Soho cinema in a show of solidarity with staff who are fighting for better wages and union representation.
Staff at the arthouse cinema chain Curzon, which was founded in Mayfair on the eponymous Curzon Street, have spent the past year in negotiations with bosses in an attempt to receive the London Living Wage (LLW) and be represented by media union Bectu.
Stanley Schtinter pulled his film In a Lonely Place from the Curzon Soho last week, saying “to proceed with this event would be to tacitly endorse the current policies of Curzon”.
He joins a growing list of industry heavyweights who have given staff their support, including legendary film-makers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.
Mr Leigh said: “I am shocked to discover such an obscene difference between the exemplary way they treat their public and their cynical exploitation of their staff.”
Supporters of the campaign have questioned Curzon’s involvement with socially- conscious events like the Human Rights Watch Film Festival – hosted at the Soho branch – while refusing to pay the London Living Wage.
In a statement this week, Curzon said they could not afford to increase wages, but hoped to so in the future. Curzon bosses and Bectu are said to be in “very advanced negotiations” about allowing staff the right to join up and they increased wages from £6.62 to £7-an-hour in August.
But they are still short of the £8.80 living wage and staff are said to be “disgusted” by the amount of time it has taken for their concerns to be recognised.
Comedian Mark Thomas has organised a series of stunts to highlight the workers’ plight, including rearranging the letters boards outside cinemas to read: “Give us fair pay” and “Just be nice to us, LLW.”
An online petition, urging chief executive Philip Knatchbull to “engage in meaningful dialogue with their staff” has received more than 6,500 signatures.
Pledging his support, Ken Loach said: “Film-makers value cinemas like the Curzon. We all want to see it become more successful. But that success cannot be at the expense of those who work there.”
More than 80 per cent of staff have said they would like Bectu to be recognised in an “official arrangement” and around 40 per cent of staff are already paid-up members.
Bectu said opening a Curzon branch would allow them to have “meaningful discussions on pay, pensions, holidays and all the important things”.
Alongside the Soho and Mayfair branches, Curzon also operates the two-screen Renoir cinema in the Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury. In a statement, Curzon Cinemas said: “We are committed to introducing the Living Wage in London and in other areas as soon as we viably can. At the moment, we are breaking even so we cannot afford to pay it as it would put Curzon into a significant and unsustainable loss. No amount of campaigning or disrupting cinema performances will change this fact.”
Curzon has agreed to recognise BECTU and negotiations are now said to be stuck over a break clause, which would allow the cinema to end the agreement after a notice period of three months.
They said they had already given in to many of the staffs’ requests, citing their wage increase to £7-an-hour and a new “employee forum”.
photo: A clear message for the Curzon management: Artist and activist Tracey Moberly outside the Soho cinema with comedian Mark Thomas. Picture: @indyrikki