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‘High degree of anger’ among leisure staff at heat of pay dispute in Newport

A Unison contingent holds a demonstration outside the Riverfront Theatre in Newport

LEISURE staff at the centre of a pay dispute in Newport have received a boost from none other than Barbie herself.

Union members at Newport Live are currently balloting for potential industrial action after a 3% imposed pay rise was deemed too low to help them cope with price inflation and the rising cost of living.

A contingent from trade union Unison was handing out leaflets to cinemagoers on Thursday after Barbie star Margot Robbie told reporters in the USA she was a firm supporter of workers’ rights.

A Unison organiser in Newport told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) the union was willing to return to the negotiating table if Newport Live made a better offer to staff.

Newport Live is a charitable trust which runs leisure services on behalf of the city’s council.

Its facilities include gyms, a swimming pool, a velodrome and the Riverfront Theatre, where two screenings of Barbie were being played on Thursday.

Steve Belcher, a regional organiser for Unison, told the LDRS that Newport Live had imposed a 3% pay rise with “no negotiation and no talks”.

“It’s totally against the spirit of partnership working,” he said, adding the move had caused “such a high degree of anger” among employees.

The ongoing cost of living crisis meant workers on lower salaries were “hit hard” and their pay was failing to keep up with inflation, Mr Belcher said.

Unison Newport branch secretary Peter Garland (left) and regional organiser Steve Belcher at the Riverfront Theatre in Newport

Newport Live staff had told the union they “can’t go on holiday, they’re getting rid of the car, they’re turning down the heating at night” to cope with financial pressures, he added.

Unison’s calls for better pay come as Hollywood workers, including film stars, are holding their own industrial action over employee rights.

And it was there that Barbie actress Robbie told reporters in July she was herself a union member and “absolutely” backed that action, and was “very much in support of all the unions”.

Back in South Wales, Newport Live told the LDRS previously it was “disappointed” with the strike ballot but respected workers’ rights.

It had offered a “cumulative” pay rise ranging from 10.4% to 19.3% to its employees since April 2022, a Newport Live spokesperson said.

Both parties have signalled they are willing to find a way to avoid matters escalating.

On Thursday, Mr Belcher said: “We don’t want strike action but it’s desperate measures.

“If they [Newport Live] come to us with an improved offer, we’ll meet them any time.”

Newport Live said previously it would “continue to offer to meet with unions to resolve this situation”.