Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
Vanessa Thorpe and Callum Cuddeford write for The Observer about the pay and conditions in cinemas across London in an article titled “Cinema stars back call to make arts venues pay a living wage”:
“Investigations by the Observer this weekend found that several larger London arts venues, such as the Barbican, offer younger staff a pound an hour less than the London Living Wage, while many smaller venues, such as the Tricycle Theatre in north London, pay almost £1.50 an hour less to ushers. Many fringe venues pay the national minimum wage of only £6.31 an hour.”
Read the full article here.
One thing I thoroughly enjoy about London is the Picturehouse cinema chain. The support for independent and foreign film alongside the creative and warm atmosphere inside each cinema is something that Odeon, Vue and Premiere cinemas can never reproduce in their hollow multiplexes. I’d add Cineworld to the latter mix, but alas, they own the Picturehouse chain so they actually can (and do) reproduce it.
It’s sad to think that the moral cost of this cinema chain is a below-London-living-wage pay and conditions. Indeed, zero-hour employment and temporary contracts are the hidden flaws with the “increase” in employment in the country – a surge in employment the Conservatives take great pride in. Despite an increase in jobs, more people need to turn to food banks to simply eat their evening meal! More often than not, zero hours mean an abuse of working conditions and a lack of holiday or pension. Let alone the uncertainty of your earnings week-to-week. Is Transformers: Age of Extinction out this weekend? We need all staff. Is the major release this week Belle? Maybe only a skeleton work force is needed – and four employees suddenly have half their pay.
Like much of the art industry in London, it is dominated by middle-class folk or those lucky to have a family who live within the city. It is near-on impossible to maintain a city lifestyle – catching public transport, paying higher bills, etc – when working in the arts or gaining a foot on the arts and media ladder. In the vast majority of cases, to grab a permanent job in a successful media company – say the BBC – it goes without saying that work experience is necessary. But alas, unless you live with Mum or Dad in London how can you afford an unpaid month placement? You can easily pay upwards of £1500 for a placement that holds no guarantee of a job or security. Even then, you’ll struggle to rent in the capital without a paying job – so anyone up North keen to move to the big smoke, you’d best think again.
Bottom line is the lack of a diverse work force in the arts means that the arts itself will become an elitist bubble that only caters to the middle-class and above – and I’ll bet ticket prices will increase too if the ticket-buyers can afford it. You could argue that perhaps work experience placement requires a certain desperation – and saving up a few grand and kipping on a friends sofa is simply “what you need to do” to join the industry. But the keen wannabe-filmmaker, rightly, needs to support his work experience by working at the local cinema. But it seems that is not possible either. London should not be catering to just the affluent – it should be accessible to all, and these strikes are fighting this battle.
Simon Columb (Follow him on Twitter: @screeninsight)