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Union Claims Partial Victory in Dispute With U.K. Theater Chain Picturehouse

British entertainment business union BECTU has claimed a partial victory in an ongoing industrial dispute with Picturehouse Cinemas, Britain’s largest arthouse theater chain.

An employment tribunal has found that two of the union’s representatives at Picturehouse’s Ritzy cinema in London were unfairly dismissed in June 2017. The tribunal ruled against the union’s claim that the dismissals were due to the employer’s victimization of the reps for their trade union activities.

The reps were dismissed after an email was sent to staff by them threatening the use of “cyber-picketing,” which is potentially unlawful activity.

The tribunal said Picturehouse had shown “a lack of neutrality” when investigating the matter, and had failed “to properly engage with the nature of the claimants’ defense.” It concluded that “the penalties applied to both claimants were outside the band of reasonable responses.”

The case is part of a long-running industrial dispute over Picturehouse’s failure to pay the Living Wage, which is £10.20 ($13.46) an hour in London, to its staff in the British capital.

Picturehouse, which runs 23 sites, is owned by multiplex giant Cineworld. Last year Cineworld bought Regal Entertainment Group, owner of Regal Cinemas, the second largest circuit in the U.S.

Gerry Morrissey, head of BECTU, commented: “We’re obviously satisfied that the tribunal has found that our members were right to bring the complaint of unfair dismissal. The judgment is clear that Picturehouse management showed a lack of neutrality and assumed the guilt of our representatives.

“We are very disappointed, however, by the tribunal finding that our representatives’ trade union activity was not central to Picturehouse’s decision to dismiss. We find this hard to accept given the leading role which Ritzy representatives have played in our long-running dispute with the company. We believe that the company took advantage of the circumstances to dismiss BECTU activists.”

In a statement, Picturehouse said: “An employment tribunal has confirmed that Picturehouse Cinemas did not dismiss any members of staff because of their trade union activism.

“The action that led to the tribunal was taken by BECTU representatives after four employees who are members of that union were dismissed by Picturehouse for gross misconduct following a full disciplinary process.

“The disciplinary process was started after Picturehouse was subject to a number of cyber-attacks on its website. This activity, if it had been allowed to continue, could have put the whole business at risk.

“BECTU disassociated itself from any such unlawful activity, and we began an investigation into who was responsible, which ended with the disciplinary action being taken against the four members of staff.

“As this is a legal matter we cannot comment further.”

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