With full acknowledgment of the big picture implications of a pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives, cratered global economies and closed international borders, Coping With COVID-19 Crisis is a forum for those in the entertainment space grappling with myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech to a halt. The hope is for an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how businesses and individuals can best ride out a crisis that doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. If you have a story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cineworld is the second largest cinema operator in the world, with close to 10,000 screens and 800 sites in 11 countries. It employs tens of thousands of staff, including at the Regal chain in the U.S.
Last week, the firm closed all of its 125 sites (including the Picturehouse cinemas) in the UK following the government’s advice for people to avoid public venues due to the spread of COVID-19. The day before, the company’s share price hit an all-time low. It has rebounded to a degree but still remains significantly down since January.
The rapid closures came with widespread redundancies earlier in the week. The swiftness of the cuts and how those cuts were carried out didn’t sit well with those on the receiving end, but they also prompted a social media backlash and questions from high-profile public figures, including UK politicians.
On Friday, hundreds (440 at last count) of those who have been made redundant wrote to Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger in a bid to be reinstated or negotiate better severance terms. As we revealed exclusively, Greidinger wrote back soon after promising to “explore whether there are alternatives,” especially in light of the UK government’s decision Friday to provide support to businesses and workers impacted by coronavirus.
We reached out to a worker on the Cineworld frontline who was made redundant last week. They spoke to us on the condition of anonymity. This is their story.
DEADLINE: Tell us about yourself and your situation…
I’m in my twenties. I was a team member doing front of house and physical customer services at one of Cineworld’s sites in Scotland. I was there for two and a half years but have been made redundant. I worked part-time on a zero hours contract as I’m also studying.
DEADLINE: Can you tell me about your job?
We were the foundation of the whole cinema. We’re the ones who deal with customers and answer any questions they have. Any person who comes to the cinema would interact with one of the team members whether to take your ticket, get you food, maintain the cinema, etc. Without us the cinema can’t exist. There’s no question about that.
I was paid £8.30 an hour. The average team member wouldn’t make more than £12,000 per year due to the zero hours contracts. To make that, you’d need to work double shifts and do the opening and closing slots. Pretty much 9 AM to 12 at night. Working part-time, I made around £6,000 per year.
It’s customer service. And essentially, it was minimum wage, just a few pennies more so as not to fall into that category. It was a means to an end to pay the bills and rent. But I was secure in my job and I got on with most of my colleagues.
I used that money to get by. But I have colleagues with families who have been made redundant after working at the company for years and I know they are very concerned about how they will feed their kids in coming months. It’s very upsetting. It’s a company that made hundreds of millions in profit last year so it’s crazy that we’re the ones who are suffering.
Of course this is a difficult situation for everyone. But the contrast in the company losing out on some money and individuals not being able to pay for essentials is very stark. It’s a total lack of dignity and respect.
DEADLINE: Will you get any notice pay?
I think I’m getting one week’s notice. I’m looking at about £150 pounds of redundancy pay with the government’s 40% redundancy package. That won’t cover rent, bills and food.
I’m not alone in this situation but in one swoop Cineworld has made so many people unable to afford the basics. As far as I’m aware, anyone there for less than 18 months has been kept on without pay and anyone who has been there for more than three years is getting kept on at 40% pay.
DEADLINE: How many staff do you think were impacted last week?
I think around 80% of team members. But every staff member has been impacted. I would estimate that around 4,500 UK employees have been impacted. There are more than 100 sites. It’s in the thousands for sure.
DEADLINE: I see in the redundancy message sent to staff there was a line about hoping staff will return at a later date…
We initially got a phone call where a manager read a script to us. It was very Black Mirror-y. It felt so heartless, to be sacked over the phone and have someone read out a script. At the end of that script they said they hoped we would come back, which I thought was disgraceful. I don’t know how anyone could go back to them after the way we’ve been treated. They’ve done it once and in other ways before so they’ll do it again.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you?
I’m looking at maybe working in a supermarket. But from people I’ve spoken to who work in supermarkets, the stores are advertising for five vacancies and getting 250 applicants.
In terms of Cineworld, we sent a letter to the CEO outlining that we want to negotiate on our pay. Boris Johnson’s advice was to stand by your employees, and that the government would support businesses and staff with packages. The fact Cineworld didn’t even wait for that, they just chucked us out before they even got confirmation of what help might be available, they have shown their true colors. Our demand is that we are paid fairly and shown some dignity. We’ve worked loyally and dedicated our time to this company and we’ve contributed to its success.
It’s interesting to see the contrast in behavior with some other companies that operate zero hours contracts. It is possible to run a profitable businesses and still pay staff fairly.
DEADLINE: You’re involved in a Facebook group of former Cineworld workers….
Yes, we have more than 1000 members in the group in the span of a few days. We are active with the union Bectu. We’ve found a lot of people through social media. We got involved with Bectu around two years ago when Cineworld ended the taxi policy they had for staff doing late-night shifts. It was another money-saving measure that impacted the lowest paid members of the company. So, sadly, I can’t say I’m surprised by the decision they’ve made this week.
DEADLINE: Would you go back to work for Cineworld?
I wouldn’t go back to work for them unless they change their policies on the redundancies and agree to negotiate pay.