Edinburgh Playhouse forced to pay out £20k to workers after legal battle

The Jersey Boys. Pic: Brinkhoff_Mogenburg
The Jersey Boys. Pic: Brinkhoff_Mogenburg
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Edinburgh Playhouse has been forced to pay out £20,000 to workers following a legal battle.

Owners Ambassador Theatre Group Ltd (ATG) is to shell out tens of thousands of pounds in backdated wages following a legal battle over pay increases.

The company refused to honour a pay agreement negotiated by entertainment union Bectu, prompting 25 workers to raise a claim at an employment tribunal.

Staff have now been awarded payouts totalling £20,000, while a further 70 employees will also receive back pay and wage increases as a result of the case.

Paul McManus, the union’s Scottish negotiating officer, said: “Bectu has a national agreement with the UK Theatre employee association which covers all the theatres outside of London.

“This sets the minimum pay rates that people can be paid working in theatres each year and we negotiate pay increases based on those minimum rates.

“This all worked fine until 2017, when ATG decided that they weren’t going to follow that agreement anymore.”

The tribunal heard that, despite the national agreement, theatre workers can also negotiate local, or house, agreements and Playhouse staff did this in 2005. This meant they were on a higher rate than the minimum negotiated nationally.

However, the house agreement also stated that “the minimum rates for each grade... shall increase annually with the agreed Bectu increase for each appropriate grade”.

In 2017, a national increase of 4.2 per cent was set for certain grades of staff. But the Playhouse decided to pay this increase only to those on the national minimum wage and increase the others by just two per cent.

Employment judge Muriel Robison ruled that breached the workers’ contracts.

In a written judgement on the case she stated: “I concluded... that the terms of the national agreement and, where appropriate, the house agreement, were to be binding on the parties.”

She added that, as ATG had paid increases in line with national agreement in previous years, this indicated an “intention for ATG to be bound by the terms [of the agreements]”.

The judge also said that, while she appreciated the company’s concerns about fairness among staff, she was “required to apply the relevant legal provisions”.

However, she claimed it was now open to ATG to take steps to try to amend staff contracts if it was unhappy with them.

Solicitor Paul Deans, who represented the workers, said the case highlighted the “advantages of union membership and the power of collective bargaining”.

Mr Dean said: “Without the collective bargaining power of the union, the Playhouse staff would not be legally entitled to these well-earned pay rises.”

A spokesman for ATG said: “We have been meeting with our employees in Edinburgh and adjusting pay rates in line with the tribunal decision. Edinburgh Playhouse generally pays its staff rates of pay that are above Bectu negotiated levels and has done so for many years.”

Edinburgh Playhouse was bought by the Ambassador Theatre Group Ltd in 2010.