Cineworld workers are “numb and angry” after they woke up to headlines that the cinema chain was closing.
Bosses announced last weekend that they would mothball their US and British cinemas.
Katie is one of the 5,500 Cineworld workers who face trying to live off no pay after the end of this month. Her income was around £600 a month, plus £160 a week from working tax credits and child tax credit.
She’ll now lose her pay and working tax credit, slashing her income to £60 a week. “That’s £60 a week for me and my child,” Katie told Socialist Worker. “I can’t pay bills on indefinite unpaid leave.
“I had to sit down with my son saying I have to cancel all the extra curricular activities he does, like learning to play guitar. That’s not what I wanted to say, especially after all sacrifices this year.
“I fear that I will have to spend Christmas going to food banks.”
Katie has worked at the company for 14 years on a zero hours contract. “This has been my life for nearly half of my life, and I’m being treated as nothing,” she said.
“We were working fine on the Saturday. We woke up on the Sunday and saw it splashed over the news.
“They said, ‘Sorry, it was a mistake.’ But then on Monday we read the press release saying they’re closing an hour before we got an email. It’s infuriating that what we’ve got is the same as the media—and often later.
“It’s always vague language, no mention of what is happening about our jobs.”
She added that the firm is now trying to push workers to resign.
“The higher ups are rubbing their hands with glee because they don't have to pay out,” she said. “And if Cineworld gets away with it, other companies will do the same.”
Katie explained that, because workers haven’t been technically sacked, the company doesn’t have to give them holiday or redundancy pay. “They let us know we can’t take our holiday,” she said.
“Nearly half of my co-workers have gone in and handed in their resignation to get money in place of holiday.”
Cineworld bosses helpfully sent out an email with job search websites. Suggestions included the British Army.
And they have not kept workers furloughed until the end of the month when the scheme ends, meaning a steeper hit to their pay packets. “There isn’t a penny for after 15 October,” said Katie.
“We’ll get paid at the end of the month and then that’s it.”
Supporters of the People Before Profit network and others quickly organised solidarity with Cineworld cinema workers.
Around a dozen people, mainly workers, gathered outside the Harlow Cineworld in Essex on Friday in a protest organised by the local Covid-19 action group.
The previous day in York, ten people from the trades council and coronavirus action group rallied outside the Cineworld branch. Trade unionist Julie said workers “were really pleased that someone had shown up to support them, that someone was doing something.”
She said activists will meet to discuss the next steps in the city where “job losses at Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Peacocks will really affect us”.
Meanwhile, a dozen people stood in solidarity outside the Cineworld in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, on Wednesday. Jeannie, a socialist activist, told Socialist Worker, “Workers told us there’s about 25 workers—half on proper contracts, the other half on zero hours contracts.
“They have been told just that there will be no hours next week, even though some have been there more than five years.”
People Before Profit is fighting for an emergency programme to defend jobs, services and safety. It’s backed by leading trade unionists and Labour MP John McDonnell.
Demands include extending the furlough scheme for “at least 12 months” and “an immediate programme of green investment” to “provide a million climate jobs”.
And it says the whole programme could be paid for through “a massive transfer of resources from the rich”.
It will take strikes, protests and a fight from the unions to stop bosses making workers pay for the coronavirus crisis.