Glee Club in Cardiff ‘under threat of closure’ following union dispute
The Glee Club could face an uncertain future after its owner threatened to close the comedy venue in an acrimonious row with the Unite union.
It come after workers at the venue secured union recognition following a fight by Unite, who hailed it a ‘landmark victory for workers’.
Staff at the Cardiff Bay club first attempted to unionise earlier this year, when Unite accused the company of a ‘relentless union-busting agenda.’
The Glee Club, which has been situated in the city for 22 years, employs around 35 workers and recognition by the union means staff will be covered by a collective agreement. This will enable Unite to negotiate with the employer regarding workers’ pay and other terms and conditions of employment.
Unite secured official recognition following an application to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). Recognition was granted following the union proving that over 50% of Glee Club workers were members of Unite.
The union’s General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a fantastic victory for the workers at the Glee Club Cardiff. They have stood strong, and as a result, have secured official union recognition. Hospitality workers across Wales should take heart in this great news. Unite is here to fight for you, we are the union for workers in every workplace.”
Unite industrial officer Michaela Gilroy added: “We are delighted that we have secured this victory for Glee Club workers.
“This has been a long campaign for workers’ rights but the hard work has paid off. Terms and conditions in the hospitality sector are notoriously bad, so union recognition will give Unite the opportunity to change that for these workers.
“We are now seeking urgent constructive talks with the Glee Club to agree the terms of the official recognition agreement.”
However, Glee’s management said they are disappointed with the decision, claiming the union had been issuing ‘lies’ and ‘hysterical claims’ against them.
Chief executive Mark Tughan told Chortle he was now considering giving up the venue.
“We simply will not continue under this toxicity. It’s bullying, pure and simple,” he said in an interview with the comedy website.
The union had claimed its members were threatened with disciplinary action and even dismissal for trying to drum up support for the union, calling it ‘blatant trade union victimisation’, Unite also alleges a member was demoted, leading to a 10 per cent pay cut.
The allegations were vehemently denied by Mark Tughan, who fired back: “We are disappointed this was imposed without both a fair debate or a ballot. We asked for these and Unite refused point-blank.
“When we tried to speak to staff, we were silenced with hysterical claims of ‘union busting’. Thus the staff there only got one side of an important debate. This, we think the process was unfair as the question was never put to the staff transparently and with a free exchange of views.
“We have been the subject of some very serious and defamatory accusations by Unite, including claims that we have fired staff because of union activity. This is palpably untrue and we are considering what action to take, including legal action, to ensure these lies are called out.”
Tughan said he is now considering all his options, including closure of the club.
“Given the fact that we have imminent break clauses in our lease, and significant interest from alternative occupiers in our unit, we are considering our options, including consensual early surrender on the lease,” he said.
“There is literally no amount of profit that can possibly compensate for the kind of nastiness and lies that I and my team are currently enduring. I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m only too happy to move on.
“I think we’re a good employer. We pay well above even the real living wage and in 29 years in the business, we’ve had not one employment dispute or tribunal. And none of our workers lost their jobs in the pandemic.”
In response a Unite spokesperson told Chortle: “To suggest management were ‘silenced’ by the union is clearly nonsense. Glee management held several staff meetings to try and discourage workers from pursuing union recognition on-site.
“Management has clearly communicated with staff freely throughout this process. Despite pressure from management, workers have made their views clear by standing strong and remaining as members of Unite. Glee management were unable to present any credible evidence to the Central Arbitration Committee that workers did not support recognition.
“The CAC have made their decision and it is now time for the Glee Club to move on and accept this. They need to ditch the rhetoric and work with Unite to build a positive workplace environment where their workers feel respected and valued.”
The Glee Club in Cardiff, which has played host some of the biggest names in comedy including Lee Evans, Michael McIntyre, Eddie Izzard, and Rhod Gilbert opened in 2001. It was the second venue in the comedy club chain after the first Glee Club opened in Birmingham in 1994. Clubs in Nottingham, Glasgow and Oxford followed.
None of the other Glee venues are involved in the dispute.
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