Cineworld workers on zero-hours contracts in the UK could be left without pay beyond Thursday after the cinema chain’s chief executive said that the government’s job support scheme would not save 5,500 jobs.
Mooky Greidinger, the Cineworld chief executive, whose family trust owns a fifth of the company shares, said the job support scheme “cannot work for us” because it did not help companies earning no income. The comments were contained in a memo sent to employees seen by the Guardian.
The job support scheme was a central plank in Rishi Sunak’s plan for the UK economy as the furlough scheme comes to an end. Under the scheme the government will support a maximum of only 22% of the salaries of workers on shortened hours – significantly less generous than the 80% offered at the start of the predecessor furlough scheme. The job support scheme has been criticised by some economists and opposition MPs for not incentivising job retention.
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Cineworld on Monday confirmed that it would close its 127 UK cinemas after distributors for the James Bond spy franchise delayed the release of the latest instalment, depriving the industry of another potential blockbuster. It will also shut more than 500 US cinemas, and a total of 45,000 UK and US workers are expected to be made redundant once contractors such as cleaners and security guards are included. It is understood workers may be encouraged to reapply for jobs once the cinemas reopen, but there is no clear timeline for that to happen.
In the staff memo, Greidinger wrote: “The UK government announced a new job support scheme last week and as you know, the aim of this is to support viable jobs. This said, the new government scheme places a greater financial burden on employers, which cannot work for us when we have almost no income.”
Cineworld employees first found out that their jobs were under threat via media reports on Saturday evening. On Monday afternoon employees had not received any communication about their pay for the next month, or any notice that Cineworld intended to carry out consultation with workers, a legal requirement when dismissing more than 20 people, according to workers who asked to remain anonymous because the terms of redundancy had not been settled.
Cineworld’s cinemas are generally run by a small team of salaried managers and a larger group of workers whose contracts give them zero guaranteed hours.
Employers must give employees with less than two years’ service a week of notice – or more according to their contracts – but they do not have to give zero-hours workers any hours during the notice period. That means that workers with less than two years’ service – including many of the students and young people who make up much of the Cineworld workforce – may not be entitled to any redundancy pay.
Workers told the Guardian they had been treated as “expendable” by the company, and said they had not been consulted about their futures.
“My plan is probably to look for other manager jobs,” said one worker at a cinema in the UK’s Midlands. “If not I know Amazon are always hiring. It’s probably going to be a minimum wage job.”
The Treasury was approached for comment. Cineworld declined to comment on its plans for its workers beyond the closure announcement.