At the beginning of the year a group of workers at the Curzon cinema chain joined BECTU, the media and entertainment union. Front-of-house workers at Curzon are employed on zero-hour contracts, meaning that they have no guaranteed earnings week by week. If they’re offered no work, they earn no money.
By August, almost half of all non-management Curzon staff had joined BECTU. They filed papers with the Central Arbitration Committee and gathered 108 signatures – representing 70 per cent of the workforce – on a petition asking Curzon to recognise BECTU for the purposes of collective bargaining. Management refused to listen.
The workers are campaigning for the reintroduction of ticket concessions for cinemagoers, more secure contracts and higher wages. Most earn £7 an hour. The London Living Wage is £8.80. A ticket to see a film at the Curzon Soho after 5 p.m. on a weekday is £13.75. Curzon have refused to recognise the union, saying that the company would set up an ‘official forum for employees to feedback their concerns to senior staff’ instead.
Curzon aren’t the only cinema group to exploit their workers in this way. The Everyman chain also employs all non-management staff on zero-hour contracts. One of them told me that in slow weeks managers would routinely be asked to send workers home to keep costs down. ‘That’s the nightmare scenario for zero-hour workers.’ he said. ‘There are people for whom the flexibility is good. The injustice is that they’re imposing it on people from above, all over the workforce.’
Today the Curzon Workers Party organised a communication blockade, asking people to bombard Curzon head office with emails, tweets and phone calls to ask the management why they wouldn’t voluntarily recognise the union. The protest was due to take place tomorrow, but Curzon head office decided to close for the day, so the campaign began this morning instead.
I’ve spent the afternoon emailing Philip Knatchbull, the CEO of Curzon, to ask him why he wouldn’t recognise the workers’ union. So far, he hasn’t emailed me back. @CurzonCinemas hasn’t been responding to tweets. Earlier I called all the numbers listed on the Facebook page, but my calls went unanswered. When I tried again later, the phones were engaged. The blockade runs until 6 p.m.