Alisdair Kairns

Not all glitz and glamour at the movies

In 2007, a group of workers from the Picturehouse cinema chain in London began a campaign calling for all staff to be paid the living wage and receive fair benefits. Over ten years later the fight continues as staff member and union rep Alisdair Kairns explains.

What is the Living Wage campaign about?

“The campaign that I’m involved in is the Picturehouse fight for the London living wage, sick pay, maternity, paternity and adoption pay and fair pay differentials and for union recognition for sites other than the Ritzy cinema in Brixton.”

“A living wage is a wage that people can actually live on, it means a wage that will enable them to actually pay their bills, pay their rent, be able to have a decent life. It’s about guaranteeing staff an amount of money that enables them to not live in poverty.”

What has the campaign achieved?

“The campaign has grown from just the Ritzy cinema in 2007 to six Picturehouse cinemas across London joining in the fight. There were high profile strikes in 2014 which culminated in a 26% pay rise for the staff there and a promise to continue to negotiate towards the living wage, but in 2016 Picturehouse reneged on their promise.”

“I think it’s amazing to have the support and solidarity from workers across the country and it really gives us enthusiasm to know that we’re in the same boat and we’re all encouraging each other to continue to fight for what we think is really important and right.”

How has your union – BECTU, a sector of Prospect – helped?

“Having a union that has experience of disputes and negotiating with employers, who is there to support and provide legal advice has been absolutely crucial and I don’t know what we would have done without that.”

“I see people – particularly in customer service jobs – being exploited everywhere and you know the union has been incredibly helpful in providing the kind of support and advice about how you can go about changing things.”

Have you received any support from the public?

“We’ve had incredible support from the public, it’s been so encouraging. We’ve raised an incredible amount of money from people who’ve donated to our funds that enables us to pay wages for people who lose out by going on strike.”

“We’ve had countless emails from our supporters and the public who are emailing our bosses telling them that they absolutely need to start paying their staff properly. It’s been really heart-warming to see how much support there is out there for us.”