Ken Loach calls decision not to pay staff London Living Wage “shocking” and “hypocritical”.

Staff at the Ritzy cinema in London are to ballot on strike action after a long-running pay dispute with cinema operator Picturehouse.

Workers are calling for the exhibitor to pay all staff the London Living Wage of £8.80 per hour, a demand Cineworld-owned Picturehouse refuses to meet.

Approximately 90% of the Ritzy’s 100 staff are BECTU members, according to the union, which will post the ballot results on its website on Monday.

The union has been leafleting outside the cinema this week after ACAS-mediated talks between the two parties broke down in February.

Meanwhile director Ken Loach has waded into the dispute, expressing outrage at the exhibitor’s stance:

“It’s unforgivable not to pay the London living wage,” the veteran director told Screen. “It’s really shocking. Particularly since the same cinema hosts the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and sells Fair Trade Coffee. They will support every good cause apart from the one at home. It’s hypocritical window-dressing and I hope they’re shamed into paying proper wages.”

Ten days ago Ritzy staff released the following statement:

“Picturehouses are now part of the largest chain of cinemas (by number of screens) in Europe, and they are currently hoping to invest about £20 million in new cinemas in the UK, including plans for five new cinemas in London alone. We are simply asking that they invest similarly in their staff, who after all are the very lifeblood of the business.”

It continued: “As ever, we remain open to talking to Picturehouses and trying to resolve this dispute without having to resort to strike action but our members have repeatedly made clear that they are no longer willing to live on such low pay whilst the profits of The Ritzy continue to rise.”

An earlier message on Picturehouse’s website read: “In common with most Brixton employers we do not pay wages at this level for our front-line staff, but for over ten years we have paid substantially more than the national minimum wage, and there are full benefits such as sick pay, discounts on food and drink and unlimited free tickets. We offered a package that would have increased wages by 21.5% over 20 months but this has been turned down.”

It continued: “We cannot increase pay at a rate that could damage the wider Picturehouse group or cause job losses.”