Movie theater chain Cineworld Group, which also owns specialty exhibitor Picturehouse, has come under fire for letting go many of its staff and reducing the wages of others in the U.K. following the closure of all their British cinemas due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Staff employed on a casual basis – on so-called “zero-hours contracts,” which offer no guarantee of work – are at particular risk as they are no longer required to come into work, although the group is looking at ways to safeguard their welfare, Variety has learned.
Philippa Childs, head of entertainment industry union Bectu, which represents many cinema staff, said in a statement: “This is devastating news for people working at Cineworld who were already in a precarious situation as many were zero-hours contracts workers. To let people go, at a time like this, when they have no other possibility of getting a job will only further add to their anguish in the current climate.”
Childs added: “We are urging all employers to avoid letting staff go as there are still further updates to come from government on support packages for individuals and their salaries. This is not the time to take advantage of the situation and prepare for turning a profit once thing starts to improve.”
Meanwhile, Member of Scottish Parliament James Kelly has written to Cineworld Group CEO Mooky Greidinger raising a number of cost-cutting measures at the company.
“While some constituents have informed me that they have little or no information from management as to their futures, others have indicated that Cineworld is currently in the process of dismissing all staff on zero-hour contracts and have been employed for less than 18 months,” Kelly wrote.
Kelly said that another constituent had alleged that “permanent staff are being asked to sacrifice 60% of their salary for the forthcoming months or also face redundancy.”
“While I recognize the COVID-19 outbreak will have an acute impact on the cinema industry, it is completely unacceptable to make hard-working staff pay the price for this pandemic – especially at an organization as profitable and successful as Cineworld,” Kelly said.
In a statement, Cineworld said: “We have offered employees with more than three years’ service partial payments until we are able to re-open our cinemas. Anyone who accepts this offer can also take paid work outside of our company during the closure and they will be awarded a loyalty bonus once Cineworld has re-opened. We are also offering those employees the option of voluntary redundancy. We recognize the challenges facing our employees, and Cineworld is currently working to establish a hardship fund with more details to follow.”
Cineworld is the second largest cinema chain in the world, after China’s Wanda Cinemas group. Its revenue was $4.37 billion last year.