Rio strike: Workers picket Dalston cinema over planned job cuts and ‘threat to community activities’

Staff stage a strike outside the Rio. Photo credit: Julia Sukan del Rio

Staff stage a strike outside the Rio. Photo credit: Julia Sukan del Rio - Credit: Archant

Staff at Dalston’s Rio cinema this afternoon marched out of work to protest planned job cuts at the iconic indie screen.

Strikers argue the cinema plays a vital role in the community, and say managers are putting that work at risk with a restructure – something Rio chiefs deny.

In all, 10 workers face redundancy. Those on the picket line say casual staff on zero-hours contracts will take over many of the permanent workers’ remaining roles, but the cinema insists this is untrue and says more than half the redundancies were voluntary.

Projectionists have also been axed in favour of automation, it is said.

In addition, campaigners claim schools are now being charged more for events and some late-night showings have been stopped to save cash.

Protesters dressed in bright yellow “SOS Rio” T-shirts picketed the cinema from 3.30pm until 8pm today.

“It’s hard,” one told the Gazette. “This is a second home for me and many people here, and for many people in the community who are regulars.

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“And it has been ripped apart, basically.

“We want to raise awareness – if not for our sakes, then for the community aspects. The classic matinees need to keep going and school screenings need to keep going.

“No more price rises for the disabled and senior citizens.

“This needs to be an asset to Hackney.”

The controversial restructure came into effect on Monday, leaving some feeling there was little hope for its opponents. One striker said: “We feel that for us it may be a bit too late. This is the first time, and probably the last time, we’ve been on strike.”

But BECTU union leaders were keen to stress the campaign was not over, saying they would meet next week to discuss the possibility of further action.

In April, following a six-month campaign, BECTU members were compensated for a pay cut they took in 2013 to keep the single-screen art deco cinema running. The Rio lost £40,000 last year and still does not pay workers the London Living Wage, but retains a high profile. Last month it welcomed Ruby Wax and the High Commissioner of Barbados for a screening starring Wax’s daughter.

Managers’ plans to rescue the ailing business, revealed in the Gazette last week, include a second screen in the basement.

But in a statement on its website, Rio management refuted the allegation that the cinema’s community work was under threat.

“The Rio’s community mission is fundamental to its existence,” it reads, “and its independence and focus will not and cannot change.

“We are proud of our school screenings, classic matinees, film festivals, community screenings and, of course, our main features.

“We are also proud to be a cornerstone of Dalston’s social scene and support the local businesses in our area that, in turn, support the Rio.”

Bosses added the Rio was simply “catching up” to bigger cinema chains and had retained many now-outmoded systems and procedures since the 1990s.

They accused the strike of being illegal under the 24-year-old Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, but did not elaborate. The union responded by saying there had been a 70 per cent turnout in the strike ballot, and 93pc had voted in favour of industrial action.

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