CINEWORLD staff have clashed with their employer over plans to 'cut them off' from furlough pay before the government scheme comes to an end.

The cinema chain shut all of its 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues – including Cineworld Runcorn – yesterday, Thursday, due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and restrictions on hospitality venues.

It is understood that workers will be paid for hours worked, plus furlough pay, up to October 15.

No other details are clear around redundancy pay or other deal terms for staff.

The government's furlough scheme – to support staff who have not been able to work during the pandemic – finishes at the end of the month.

Bectu – the union for creative industries – has described it as a 'calculated attack' that Cineworld is cutting staff furlough a fortnight before scheme ends.

But a spokesman for Cineworld said the situation was due to a change in the criteria for the furlough scheme.

It is winding down to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme, designed to protect 'viable jobs' in businesses facing lower demand over the winter months.

Philippa Childs, head of Bectu, said: "Despite our best attempts, Cineworld have not had any meaningful discussions with us and following yesterday’s communication with staff we have no choice but to call the situation for what it is – a calculated attack on its workforce to cut them off from furlough two weeks before the scheme even ends.

"We are yet to receive an explanation as to why they aren't taking advantage of the job support scheme to keep their workforce in jobs over the next six months or consulting with their staff about redundancies."

Meanwhile, Mooky Greidinger, chief executive of Cineworld, is said to have written to Boris Johnson, saying that the Job Support Scheme 'does not fit our business' and asking the Prime Minister to reinstate the furlough.

Ms Childs added: "The government has not budged on extending the furlough scheme despite much lobbying from unions and politicians – so Cineworld, who enjoy the biggest market share, writing to Boris Johnson asking to be bailed out as a special case is nothing more than an attempt to deflect from their responsibilities to their employees.

"Cinema chains should be thinking creatively about how to attract people back into screens – not resorting to shorter hours and job cuts that will leave the industry on its knees for even longer.

"We will continue our work to ensure that Cineworld fulfils its legal requirements to staff."

A spokesman for Cineworld said: "Cineworld is saddened to confirm that as a result of the temporary closure of our cinemas and the current criteria of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Support Scheme, we are no longer able to support a number of our valued workforce.

"According to the changed criteria of the furlough scheme, those who cannot work are no longer eligible for payments, and so with our cinemas closing, many of our employees will not qualify."