By Clifford Webb
British Leyland have made the long awaited breakthrough in their struggle with the unions to end piece-work at their Austin-Morris car plant at Cowley. A mass meeting of 4,000 employees yesterday accepted a measured-day work system based on a flat rate of 21s. an hour.
This decision means the way is now clear for the group to step up production of its all important new family saloon-code named ADO28, which is due to appear in three months’ time. Production has been severely restricted by the refusal of 160 ADO28 body workers to follow the example of 560 men engaged on final assembly who accepted the new pay deal three weeks ago. So far only one of the two newly installed assembly lines is producing the car, at the rate of a few hundred a week.
The target is 4,000 a week and to achieve this the Cowley management will have to switch a large number of assembly workers from other models. As yet other sections in the assembly plant have not accepted the new deal but talks have been proceeding amicably and an agreement should be reached shortly. By holding out for three weeks the body men have won an extra 1s. an hour, the assembly men got £1.
But it is unlikely that this gain will lead to a leap-frogging claim for the extra shilling. The body men who work in extremely noisy and trying conditions have traditionally taken home bigger wage packets than their colleagues working in the comparative peace of the assembly shops. With Cowley well on the way to a complete changeover to measured day work Austin-Morris will now be able to tackle their biggest plant at Longbridge.
Initial approaches have already been rejected by the unions as they were at Cowley but it is difficult to see how the Birmingham men can continue to justify their refusal in the face of yesterday’s acceptance at Cowley. In a Joint statement last night the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the company pointed out that in addition to the 21s. an hour the body men would receive higher holiday pay, premiums for night shifts and overtime working and improved guarantees against lay-offs and being sent home early.
On Merseyside, production of Toledo cars was halted at two Triumph car factories because of a token pay strike by 260 clerical workers.