Staff at the Everyman movie chain complained that they were left in limbo by the company’s use of a “layoff” to lay off 400 employees until the public returned.
By law, employers can use “layoff” to temporarily send workers home but, according to the Acas Conciliation Service, this should be a last resort.
In a letter to staff, Everyman President Paul Wise said the coronavirus pandemic, which has grown to audience size and delayed the release of new films, has created a “temporary shortage of available work” and that it was necessary to “lay off 400 of our site team members across the domain”.
“By using the layoff, we are able to avoid considering further layoffs for now and keep more people in the job,” the letter said.
The Everyman chain, which operates 33 theaters, would not have access to the holiday plan to cover salaries in October due to the need for an increased contribution from the company, Wise said. He would also not access the government’s new employment support program, which replaces the leave next month, “because of the cost.”
A staff member at Everyman, who is employed by the chain on a guaranteed hour contract, said, “Honestly, I feel like I’m unemployed. We have been told you are being laid off, but we can call you anytime to do a shift. I’m in limbo and I feel really confused.
There is no time limit on layoffs and employees continue to accumulate vacation time during layoffs. They are also entitled to a ‘statutory warranty indemnity’ of up to £ 150 in any three month period. Employees with more than two years of service can claim severance pay if they have been laid off and have earned less than half a week’s pay for four or more weeks in a row.
Everyman declined to comment on his use of the layoff, but it is understood that some staff members have received ad hoc changes since the measure was introduced earlier this month.
In his message to staff, Wise said Covid-19 continued to have an impact on the film’s schedule, with new releases being postponed until next year. “As a result, the company is experiencing a further reduction in trading levels,” he said. “Our hope remains that the films return and admissions increase and that we return to previous activity levels.”
Earlier this month, Cineworld, Britain’s largest chain, announced the temporary closure of all of its UK cinemas. The decision affected thousands of zero hour employees who have been retained but are not on shift. The company does not access the government’s employment assistance program.
Tim Sharp, a senior labor rights official at the Trade Union Congress, said the layoffs were really tough for workers who were “in limbo” until things improved. “We have the impression that the risk of this terrible recession is being transferred by some employers on the shoulders of the workers concerned,” he said.
The government also had to take some responsibility for the precarious situation some workers found themselves in, as the leave was replaced by the employment assistance program, Sharp added. “A short-time working program requiring a large employer contribution might work for some companies in certain sectors, but it clearly does not work for the hardest hit,” he said.