Unite Union is condemning Event cinemas for its decision to make employees redundant in the wake of the downturn following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Event has also slashed staff hours in conjunction with jobs losses to reduce its roster by an average of 50%. At least 65 union members are losing their jobs at cinemas in Auckland, Wellington, Whangarei and Tauranga.
Unite Union is arguing that the forced redundancies that resulted are unlawful – some workers were chosen for redundancy before the feedback window closed. Event refused to review or change its proposal in light of the second wage subsidy scheme of 8 weeks being announced on 14 May 2020.
“We’re furious that they have continued this process. They should have put this whole thing on hold in order to fully consider the new support the Government was offering,” says cinema organiser Hannah Shelton Agar.
“They are choosing to put people out of work unnecessarily – it’s premature, and it’s cruel. These workers could have been easily kept on for another eight weeks. By the end of the second wage subsidy, cinemas will be getting back to usual with blockbuster content to show. Redundancies may not even have been necessary if they had just waited.”
Event first proposed a restructure on 13 May 2020 where they asked staff to express an interest in voluntary redundancy, dropping their hours or moving to casual contracts. This proposal was made on the basis that revenue was down but also due to economic uncertainty after the Government wage assistance ended, which was then limited to 12 weeks. Event received $2.7 million in wage subsidy and is expected to apply for the wage subsidy extension, but only for staff remaining after the redundancies and cuts in hours have taken effect.
The cinema industry has been hard hit by Covid-19; global production and release of blockbuster content has been put on hold. Top earners for cinemas like Mulan, Avengers and James Bond have had their premieres pushed back sometimes indefinitely, however blockbuster releases will restart in July. Event is the largest cinema operator in New Zealand and is yet to re-open its doors upon since Level 3 in March 2020. Hoyts and Reading cinemas are its largest competitors and have so far not indicated they are seeking to restructure or lay off staff.