A London living wage pledge too far when it comes to a Hackney social enterprise

CityHall17: South Bank home of London Mayor 201017 © david.altheer@gmail.com
City Hall: fine words flow from the mayoral HQ about a living wage

SADIQ KHAN has been getting a reputation as the mayor who likes to say No. Uber, for example; the London garden bridge; the postmodern Routemaster buses: his City Hall regime has been at the least negative about them all.

But not always. He says Yes to the campaign for the London Living Wage of £9.75 an hour (not to be confused with the Tories’ meant-to-confuse national living wage”).

How then does the Mayor justifythe London Assembly’s giving £40,000 to a Hackney social enterprise? Not only has the Rio Cinema refused to pay the LLW but it has had a long-running dispute with staff over money.

Workers had to go on strike to get promises of improvements from the management. Even the idea of their joining the Bectu trade union was vigorously opposed.

City Hall told Loving Dalston the Mayor was pleased to support the “important cultural asset”. In an email it added: “The Mayor believes hard-working Londoners should be properly rewarded for helping our capital to thrive, which is why he is committed to promoting the London Living Wage and believes all employers, such as the Rio, should pay staff fairly.”

The official flatly refused to answer follow-up questions. It is perhaps significant that both the London Assembly and the Rio’s other financial supporter, Hackney council, are Labour-dominated. The Rio declined to comment.

Rio Cinema Kingsland Hi St Dalston London 041116 © DavidAltheer [at] gmail.com
The Rio in E8: one of the longest-lasting cultural centres in Hackney

London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, of the Liberal Democrats, commented: ”Sadiq Khan says he is committed to making London a living wage city… Supporting organisations with GLA grants which don’t pay their staff the London living wage cannot be defended.”

Had Khan made the Rio sweat on whether he would approve the £40k, he might have advanced the workers’ progress towards the living wage. Their union has certainly sweated some advances out of the cinema’s bosses.

Helen Ryan, Bectu sector assistant national secretary, told Loving Dalston that Bectu staff reps at the Rio had recently agreed a 5% pay rise, extra shift pay and more fixed-hours contracts,

She said: “We have also agreed with the employer that this agreement forms an important step towards achieving the London Living Wage for all staff as soon as possible.”

Slowly, the drive to make Rio a fair employer is succeeding. The success of its Riogeneration campaign might give it time to reflect on how to treat staff. Perhaps it will become a more responsible employer than the well-resourced, multinational-owned Hackney Picturehouse.

David Altheer 201017

* Backstory: Workers or board: choose, says E8 cinemaUnion reports Rio to adjudicator; Rio manager counters that pay is higher than at other cinemas; Rio fails to keep out unionMr Rio quitsMultimillion-pound Hackney giveaway; Rio begs fans for money

Strike Cineworld staff demonstrate @ Hackney Picturehouse Mare St 181116 © DavidAltheer [at] gmail.com
Strike: Hackney Picturehouse staff protest about low pay at the Mare Street cinema
* All pictures on this page © DavidAltheer [at] gmail.com, and all for sale for reproduction. Most photographs are available in bigger formats

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One thought on “A London living wage pledge too far when it comes to a Hackney social enterprise

  1. That the Rio was successful in applying for a GLA grant suggests a serious problem with the grant-making process. This story illustrates how the attractive idea of “social enterprise” is exploited by cynical operations to access funding that would otherwise remain out of reach to them.

    Opposition to unionisation and mealy-mouthed excuses to avoid paying a living wage are antisocial.

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