Ambassador Theatre Group, the largest theatre operator in the UK, is being threatened with strike action involving hundreds of its employees in a dispute over pay.
Union BECTU has warned that it will ballot its members who work for ATG if the group does not address concerns over its proposals to move staff from weekly to monthly pay.
BECTU, whose members work in both front of house and backstage roles for the operator, claims the move – which ATG has blamed on legal requirements to introduce automatic enrolment of staff into a pensions scheme – will have a negative impact on employees. It said it had registered a dispute with the company.
Both sides are due to meet to discuss the situation this week in the hope of reaching an agreement, but BECTU has not ruled out industrial action if the disputes procedure fails to address concerns.
In a letter to members, the union’s acting supervisory official, Patrick Styles, said: “We registered a dispute with ATG re their threat to impose unagreed changes to members’ contractual terms by moving from weekly to monthly pay, and it is clear from the numerous concerns members have raised that ATG’s arrogant approach in this matter is completely unacceptable and has caused deep anger.”
He added that the dispute had come “against a backdrop of almost 12 months of constant attempts by ATG to ignore collective agreements” and said ATG should not be treating its employees “as numbers on a balance sheet”.
“Unless ATG moves from the unreasonable position it is taking, this dispute will escalate and, if this happens, I must be absolutely clear that we will be balloting members for strike action,” he said.
BECTU said it first learned about the company’s plans to move staff from weekly to monthly pay in November last year. The union claimed it was promised a formal presentation on how ATG would comply with pension changes but this never happened. Instead, it said ATG wrote to staff about its pension plans with a reference to moving pay from weekly to monthly.
The union is also in dispute with the company over another issue, stating that it is planning to meet with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service in a bid to resolve this complaint.
An ATG spokesman said the company was “surprised to learn that BECTU has indicated they have registered a formal dispute [over management plans] to move staff from weekly to monthly pay”. He claimed ATG had not had any “indication” from either the Theatrical Management Association or the Society of London Theatre, with which BECTU has its agreements, that a complaint had been lodged.
He said that in “accordance with that agreement there needs to be a registration of a formal dispute with SOLT/TMA”. BECTU said it had submitted its complaint to ATG directly.
The spokesman added: “ATG has consulted with its staff and BECTU members for the past 18 months over the move to monthly payments. In order to facilitate and comply with government-introduced pension auto enrolment, it has now become essential to implement monthly pay for all staff. To ease staff through the transition, ATG has offered employees an interest-free loan of up to two weeks gross pay, repayable over a 20-week period. Conversations are ongoing and we will continue to liaise with staff and BECTU.”
The news marks the second high-profile dispute between BECTU and a major theatre industry operator in a matter of weeks. In January, the union revealed that it was in dispute with See Tickets over working conditions at the ticket agency.