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Union Busting at Ustwo games


Bafta award-winning games studio to face legal action and campaign over victimisation of trade union activist

  • Multi-award winning games studio behind Monument Valley and Apple Arcade's recently launched Assemble with Care sacks senior programmer after he was questioned by management about his union activities.

  • Ustwo denied him trade union representation at his disciplinary and dismissal meetings, in breach of UK law.

  • Union gives Ustwo until Friday (4 October) to reverse the decision before it launches legal proceedings.

3 October: The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is to take legal action and launch a campaign against BAFTA award-winning mobile games and design studio Ustwo over the victimisation of a leading trade union activist.

The management of Ustwo, the studio behind the multi-award winning Monument Valley video games, informed Austin Kelmore, the branch chair and founding member of the Game Workers Unite (GWU) UK branch of the IWGB, in late September that he would be put on gardening leave and then dismissed. This happened a few weeks after he was questioned by a senior manager regarding his trade union activity and just after he invited a group of Ustwo employees to a meeting to discuss rights at work.

Austin was one of three key programmers on Ustwo's much anticipated Apple Arcade game Assemble with Care, which was completed shortly before he was dismissed.

Besides the firing over trade union activity, in breach of Section 152 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, Ustwo management was also in breach of Section 146 of the same act and section 10 of Employment Relations act 1999 by denying Austin the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative to his disciplinary and dismissal meeting.

The union has given Ustwo until Friday (4 October) to reverse the decision before it files legal action.

Ustwo's HR department had previously attacked Austin's attempts to hold management to account and generate positive change at the company. In a meeting and subsequent email from October 2018, the HR department criticised the fact Austin spent time on “company feedback, diversity schemes and working practices” and the fact he “puts leadership... on the spot”.

The email concludes saying “It feels that Austin is a self-appointed bastion of change and sometimes speaks on behalf of others” - the very definition of a trade union representative. It then goes on to say that “The studio runs as a collective ‘we’ rather than leadership v employees, which may have been Austin’s experience in the past, but it’s not how things are here.

This unfair dismissal and victimisation by Ustwo, will not only hurt Austin and his family emotionally and financially, but could also put their immigration status at risk. Austin, a US national, was brought to the UK by Ustwo almost two years ago on a Tier 2 Visa, which could be put at risk by the termination of his contract.

IWGB GWU UK branch secretary Jamie Cross said: “Despite Ustwo's claims of being as much a family as it is a company, it has decided to leave Austin, one of its best developers, completely orphaned. Austin and his family are not only left without their main source of income, but also unsure if they will have to uproot their whole lives and leave the country in a few weeks. The union will not stand idly by in the face of this unlawful and vicious act, and is determined to fight back until this decision is reversed, either voluntarily or through the courts.

GWU UK became a branch of the IWGB in December 2018, with the stated goals of tackling the industry's culture of excessive unpaid overtime, known as crunch, the use of zero-hours contracts, its lack of diversity and its failure to address a culture of homophobia and sexism.

For more information:

Emiliano Mellino, IWGB press officer



Notes to the Editors

The IWGB is the UK's leading union for precarious workers. It has taken successful legal action against Uber, CitySprint, Addison Lee, and others. It has also led successful campaigns against several employers, including The University of London, Ernst & Young and The Doctors Laboratory.

In 2018 the IWGB was given a Future of Work award by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) for being the “first trade union to score major successes for gig workers in the UK”.

Ustwo's Monument Valley was given the following awards:

  • BAFTA Games Awards: Best Mobile and Handheld 2015

  • BAFTA Games Awards: Best British Game 2015

  • GDC Awards: Innovation Award 2015

  • GDC Awards: Best Handheld/Mobile Game 2015

  • GDC Awards: Best Visual Art 2015

  • Apple Design Award: 2014

  • D.I.C.E Awards: Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction 2015

  • Unity Awards: Best 3D Visuals 2014

  • Unity Awards: Community Choice 2014

  • 11th IMGA: Grand Prix 2015

Monument Valley 2 was given the following awards:

  • The Game Awards: Best Mobile Game 2017

  • IMGA China Award: Best Overseas Game Of The Year 2017

  • Unity Awards: Best Mobile Game 2017

  • Wandouija Award: Design Award 2017

  • London Design Awards: Digital - Entertainment And Leisure 2017

  • YYSTV Award: Best Game Project 2017

  • Gold Gyro Award: Best Single-Player Mobile Game Of The Year 2017

  • Italian Video Game Awards: Best Mobile Game 2018

  • Gold Tea Award: Best Indie Game Of The Year 2017

  • Webby Awards: Games - Puzzle 2018

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