BANKRUPTCY is still no more than a whispered word at the Rio Cinema board as its ponders how to counter falling attendances and rising costs. Now the staff’s struggle for a fair rate of pay is going public.
Like most London movie houses, the Dalston cinema has denied its workers the London living wage (LLW).
Widespread affection for the Rio meant that its wage failures were overlooked as campaigners focused, with some success, on the Ritzy in Brixton, before turning to the Hackney Picturehouse, which was picketed by a group unexpectedly featuring Romany-French footballer-actor Eric Cantona.
The spotlight is switching to the Rio. The Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, has come under fire for financially supporting a company that does not pay the living wage even as his Labour council says it believes it “could be the first borough to achieve full LLW-compliance in London”.
Ben Mathis, who chairs Hackney Liberal Democrats, told Loving Dalston: “When it comes to taking action on affordable homes, cash-machine charges and now the London Living Wage, Hackney Labour does the bare minimum.
“If the Mayor’s commitment to the living wage does not extend beyond direct employees to council contractors and businesses, like the Rio, where the council has an interest, then it is almost worthless.”
Relations between the Rio board, led by City lawyer Patrick Lyons, and staff have become acrimonious since the attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to keep unions out. A planned pay rise somehow became a loan of thousands of pounds to the cinema.
Half the money has been repaid to the workers but they are considering seeking outside arbitration on their demand for a fair wage.
Lyons told the latest Rio annual general meeting, however, that the living wage was “impossible”. Ticket sales had plummeted by more than £76,000 – 16% – and income from the café-bar by a similar percentage while wages and social-security payments had increased.
The Rio will also have to find extra money for staff pensions required by recent legislation.
Not everyone at the 2015 AGM was satisfied with the annual report. One member asked why expenditure on “sundries” had risen from £322 to £7,909, a question that received no serious answer from either the chairman or the treasurer.
As well as the under-explained departure of long-serving manager Charles Rubinstein, reported on this site, and his replacement by an “executive director”, the Rio peremptorily disposed of the services of Glory Hall, its website designer of many years.
Rubinstein’s successor Oliver Meek, promised “exciting” changes. So far they have included an attempt to prevent audiences’ bringing their own refreshments; to improve what Lyons terms the Rio’s “slow” service; comedy and drama in the basement – one show attracted Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn – and fresh popcorn.
Lea Bridge ward councillor Ian Rathbone (Labour), said: “I have campaigned in the past for the Rio. I would think the Rio needs friends to help to keep it going; perhaps another Save the Rio campaign.”
Lyons said the board was “very optimistic about the direction of the Rio”.
The Mayor would not comment, but a council staffer said: “We are continuing to meet with the Rio in order to offer any support that we can to help this important local cinema to achieve a more sustainable financial position.
“We are also supporting the Rio with its aspirations to pay staff the LLW.”
Pressed further, the council admitted it was two months since it had last met the Rio and the living wage was not discussed.
The spokesperson added: “The council’s three-year rent-stop was agreed on the basis that they [the Rio] would continue to work on improving the viability of the business.”
David Altheer 110216
* Backstory: Rio first for Corbyn niece; You owe us, Rich Mix tells council; Rio fails to keep out union; Mr Rio quits; Hackney group makes theatre work for the young; Multimillion-pound Hackney giveaway; Lost Clapton cinema
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