Published: 15:48, 23 March 2020
| Updated: 17:17, 23 March 2020
Employees at cinemas across the county are demanding the reinstatement of their jobs after a round of redundancies related to the ongoing coronvirus crisis.
Staff at Cineworld and Picturehouse branches in Ashford, Dover and Rochester were among hundreds across the country to receive an automated phone call explaining they no longer had jobs as the cinema chain closed its doors to the public last week.
The chain has said it will remain closed 'until further notice.'
Now, an action group supported by the Bectu union has formed to demand the chain protect workers over the coming months.
Since the decision was made by the company to lay off staff, the government announced on Friday a wages relief programme which would pay 80% of employees salary up to £2,500.
In an open letter to the CEO of the chain Mooky Greidnger, the group said: "We collectively condemn this decision and are now being placed in a position of financial security indefinitely while this global crisis continue to unfold."
The letter was signed by more than 800 staff and ex-staff from across the country.
According to the open letter, staff with more than three years service would retain their jobs and receive 40% of their salary, while staff between 18 months and three years would be made redundant immediately.
It also said staff with less than 18 months service would be kept on by the chain but not paid during the indefinite period of closure.
Since the announcement, the action group has said it understands the chain is looking for more clarification from the government on the wage relief programme.
Cllr Alex Paterson (Lab), of Rochester West, said: "What more clarification do they need? It's clear salaries are going to be protected up to £2,500 a month, I'd be very surprised if there are that many Cineworld employees earning a great deal more than that.
"I think it's a shocking way to treat staff."
Despite strong words from Cllr Paterson, Cllr Noel Ovenden (Ind), of Wye Ward, Ashford, said businesses had to act fast in the wake of mass closures because of the lack of decisive action from the government.
He said: "It's a shame the government didn't act quicker in regard to lay-offs. I'm in a similar position to Cineworld where I had to lay-off three staff."
Mr Ovenden runs his own business called Ashford Recovery.
He said he hopes the government will consider allowing businesses to reinstate employees they have recently let go to take advantage of the 80% wage payment.
He added: "That would be the right and proper thing for them to do, I hope they will allow employers to reconsider their decision.
"It would work for both those employers and the employees."
Mr Ovenden said he cannot find any clarification for inviting employees back who have already been made redundant.