Action! Striking cinema workers at the Rio Cinema on 25 May. Photograph: Willy Donaghy

Staff at Dalston’s Rio Cinema walked out yesterday afternoon in protest at low rates of pay and planned job cuts.

The strike action was the culmination of a long-running dispute between workers and their bosses at the independent cinema on Kingsland High Street.

Strikers argue that the cinema serves a vital community role and is under threat from a proposed restructure that would offer staff higher wages but cut hours and employees to pay for it.

Employees are also furious at the persistent reluctance of the cinema to pay staff the London Living Wage of £9.40 an hour.

The strike is supported by BECTU, the media and entertainment trade union, and was called after 13 of the cinema’s 31 workers voted to take industrial action in a ballot on 11 May.

Campaigners and workers bearing placards and wearing bright yellow “SOS Rio” t-shirts picketed the cinema on Wednesday afternoon.

Sofie Mason, a national official at BECTU, said: “The main concern is losing an independent community cinema that makes good films accessible and affordable to low income families.

“We believe the board have mismanaged for the last seven years – they have sought no investment, sponsorship, or fundraising. They never knew what was going on and they were never there.”

Ms Mason also called on Hackney Council to intervene to save the ailing cinema: “Given the last seven years of mismanagement, Hackney Council should closely scrutinise the governance of this precious community asset and charity.”

Oliver Meek, the executive director of Rio Cinema, rejected claims that the cinema’s community work – such as mum and toddler screenings or schools screenings – was under threat, and dismissed allegations of financial mismanagement as “categorically untrue”.

“The future looks bright for the Rio and we launch a major fundraising campaign in June, to add a second screen and reconfigure our bar and café,” Mr Meek said.

“The strikers are not clear – they are suggesting there’s an ideology on management side that threatens the cinema’s survival as a community institution.

“They are making categorically false statements. There absolutely and never has been any suggestion that we will reduce community work.”

Hackney MP Diane Abbott said: “I have met with Rio staff and constituents and I am very supportive of staff. I have visited the Rio many times. I will be writing to Hackney Council to see if they can give any help with the rent.”

Cllr Jonathan McShane, Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture said: “It is not the council’s role to interfere in the governance of independent charities.

“Council officers have offered support to the Rio as it tries to get its finances on a sustainable footing and will continue to do so.

“I have already met with trade union reps and am due to meet the management to understand better the issues that have led to industrial action and to see if all sides can agree a way forward.”

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