The Cineworld cinema chain is set to close all Ireland and UK sites. The Cineworld Dublin cinema on Parnell Street in Dublin city centre had already been closed due to Government restrictions in the county but will nowgo into an indefinite closure along with all UK and many US based venues owned by the company. In the UK, Cineworld is understood to have writen to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden describing the exhibition sector as “unviable” due to studios delaying tentpole releases such as the latest James Bond film: a result of enforced local closures and audiences steering clear of cinemas during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Cineworld closures will put up to 5,500 jobs at risk in the UK and Ireland.
Cineworld has not given any further information on when its cinemas may reopen, however they could remain closed until 2021. Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger has said, “We did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable reopenings in all of our markets.”
The UK-based Cineworld Action Group, formed in March in response to staff mistreatment following the initial closure of cinemas as a result of Covid-19, have criticised the company’s lack of communication with staff throughout the pandemic, including consistently receiving news about their jobs via the press and social media.
The Parnell Street cinema location, which has changed hands between cinema chains on several occasions since first opening in 1995, became Dublin’s first IMAX cinema location in 1998. Due to its size and IMAX screen it has frequently been a venue for film premieres and the Dublin International Film Festival, while films from Poland, India and other countries screened in the cinema frequently sell out and hold firm in the Irish box office rankings, as Dublin-based international film fans take the opportunity to reconnect with their local culture. While its potentially permanent loss would be sad for the city, the priority concern is unquestionably the staff who have been left in limbo.
Film In Dublin spoke to a member of staff from the Dublin branch to receive their account of communications with the company over the last six months and their position following the confirmed closure. The staff member agreed to interview on condition of anonymity.
Film In Dublin: Can you outline firstly how Cineworld communicated with Dublin staff regarding the initial closure in March?
Cineworld Dublin staff member: The cinema initially closed on St Patrick’s Day, right before the cases began to skyrocket. We were informed of this closure the day before by the on-site manager via our private Facebook staff page, which was no surprise to us since it had been rumoured the week prior. We were happy to comply with public safety recommendations but we were not informed about what would happen to our wages until April after the government announced the subsidy scheme. This allowed us to earn 70% of our wages (later increased to 85%) without costing Cineworld one cent…well actually they decided to top up our government pay checks by €0.01 per month, the literal least they could do. This came across as a big middle finger to all of the staff – particularly those of us who couldn’t afford rent those months.
Was there any communication from Cineworld when other Irish cinemas began to reopen in the summer? It was notable that Cineworld was did not initially reopen at that time, what was the staff reaction to the cinema remaining closed while others reopened?
At the end of June, cinemas were allowed to reopen here in Ireland but we were informed that there was no chance we would be doing so before our counterparts in the US and UK since Cineworld were still devising plans and procedures to operate safely. None of us wanted to return to being around thousands of customers each day but we also were not making enough money to get by. This coerced so many of us to want to risk our health in order to go back to work. The way that large employers – across all sectors – have encouraged workers to demand a return to ‘normalcy’ is disgusting and has only enabled conspiracists and anti-maskers who are ultimately extending the pandemic.
The decision to reopen was made just days before the release of Tenet at the end of August. I know now that this decision was a last-ditch attempt at profiting before shutting the company down indefinitely. Tenet was set to be “the movie that would save cinema”, when in reality it just put our health at risk and caused immeasurable stress for every staff member. It is not safe to be operating such a large-scale business at this level of pandemic. Masks and social distancing only do so much when you have customers sitting indoors for two and a half hours at a time.
How did you and other Dublin staff find out about Cineworld’s decision to close? At what stage if any did they contact Dublin staff directly?
All of the staff (including the managers) found out about the closure from the news sites that ran the story late last Saturday night. On Sunday, we all received a message apologising for the alleged “leak to the press”. A day later the CEO, Mooky Greidinger, stated in a Deadline interview that most of the employees will be furloughed or placed on unpaid leave – information that they neglected to tell us about before we read it online. We are still unsure as to what our job status is and whether or not we will be receiving any pay this month. None of this should ever be a concern for us, especially not in these circumstances.
Cineworld seem to want to put the blame here on studios for delaying films into 2021, having called the exhibition sector ‘unviable’. Who do staff feel should be primarily responsible for the thousands of jobs at risk by these closures?
The CEO has recently stated that he does not blame the studios for killing cinema, but rather the government’s lack of support for the sector. I can’t help but laugh when I hear this person who takes home over €2 million per year asking for more government support, especially when he has ignored every one of our demands for a fairer wage. When we returned to work at the end of August, the Dublin branch was earning less that one third of the €725,000 needed to keep us running per month. I was told that Cineworld was giving us €1 million per month to keep us afloat. This was on top of the money needed for the unfinished renovation that began shortly before the initial closure. This money could have helped in topping up our government pay checks but it is very apparent that business always comes before the well-being of the employee for Cineworld.
I am not interested in placing more blame on Cineworld or the government – they have both failed us – but I know that there are greater injustices that the government are yet to tackle whereas Cineworld do not show any compassion for the workers who have allowed the business to function during a pandemic for 35c above minimum wage. After denying our appeal for a fairer wage last month we asked if they could prove that they care by acknowledging the workers’ union that many of us are a part of. They never responded.
What government actions do you believe are required in Ireland to support staff in the exhibition industry – and other industries under the Arts, Culture, Tourism etc. – who have been left so vulnerable by Covid?
The government should be prioritising the working class in all of their actions. Giving huge corporations massive grants is not the solution when those corporations abuse their power over the workers. We need job security and financial stability whether that be through a full wage subsidy or a rent moratorium. We certainly should not be working in these conditions for such a low wage. It is shocking that we are more worried about going hungry this month than catching the virus. I love the cinema but it is not essential right now. I do not know how the sector will evolve after this is over, but I do know that I want no part of it if it is being run by the likes of the Cineworld executives.