Everyman cinema staff say Covid-19 lay offs have left them in limbo

Staff at the Everyman cinema chain have complained about being left in limbo by the company’s use of “lay off” to stand down 400 employees until audiences return.

By law employers can use “lay off” to send workers home temporarily but, according to the conciliation service Acas, it should be a last resort.

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In a letter to staff the Everyman chairman, Paul Wise, said the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit audience sizes and delayed new film releases, had created a “temporary shortage of available work” and there was a need to “lay off 400 of our venue team members across the estate”.

“By making used of lay off, we are able to avoid considering further redundancies at this time and keep more people in employment,” the letter said.

The Everyman chain, which operates 33 cinemas, would not access the furlough scheme to cover wages in October due to the need for an increased contribution from the company, Wise said. Neither would it be accessing the government’s new job support scheme, which replaces furlough next month, “due to the cost”.

One Everyman staff member, who is employed by the chain on a guaranteed-hours contract, told the Guardian: “It honestly just feels like I’ve been made unemployed. We were told you’re getting laid off but we can call you in at any time to do a shift. I am in limbo and feel really confused.”

There is no time limit set on lay off and employees continue to build up holiday during lay offs. They are also entitled to “statutory guarantee pay” of up to £150 in any three-month period. Employees with more than two years of service can claim redundancy pay if they have been laid off and earned less than half a week’s wages for four or more weeks in a row.

Everyman declined to comment on its use lay off but it is understood that some staff have received ad hoc shifts since the measure was introduced at the start of this month.

In his message to staff Wise said Covid-19 continued to impact the film calendar, with new releases being delayed until next year. “Therefore the company is experiencing a further reduction in trading levels,” he said. “Our hope remains that films return and admissions increase and we return to previous levels of business.”

Earlier this month Cineworld, the UK’s biggest chain, announced the temporary closure of all its UK cinemas. The decision affected thousands of staff on zero-hours contracts who have been retained but have no shifts. The company is not accessing the government’s job support scheme.

Tim Sharp, a senior employment rights officer at the Trades Union Congress, said lay offs were really hard for the workers who were “put in limbo” until things picked up. “It feels a lot like the risk of this terrible downturn is being shifted by some employers on to the shoulders of the workers concerned,” he said.

The government also had to shoulder some responsibility for the precarious situation some workers were in as furlough was replaced by the job support scheme, Sharp added. “A short-time working scheme requiring a large employer contribution might work for some companies in some sectors, but it is clearly not working for the hardest hit ones,” he said.

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