By R. W. Shakespeare
Five thousand British Leyland car workers will lose their jobs in a large-scale reorganization of the corporation’s giant Austin-Morris car division that will include the shutdown of two Coventry plants. The bulk of the cuts will come by March with, the rest following by the end of next year.
This, I understand. was the grim news given to national union leaders yesterday when they were called to a meeting with Mr. Pat Lowry. B.L.M.C.’s labour relation director, and other top management men. Closure of the two Coventry factories will account for roughly 25 per cent of the redundancies. The rest will be spread across the Austin-Morris division which at present employs 83,000 people, of whom about 66,000 are manual workers.
The division’s car assembly, car body and engineering operations are concentrated in five main centres: Longbridge, Birmingham. Cowley, Oxford, Coventry, Swindon and Llanelli. Details of where the labour cuts are to be made will be revealed to shop floor representatives at plant meetings in the five centres this morning. Leaders of 16 different unions were called to the meeting at the Engineering Employers’ Federation headquarters in London.
Afterwards the corporation insisted it could not reveal any details until after the plant level meetings today. Mr. Reg Birch. national executive council member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, who led the union tearm, said: “We have agreed with the corporation not to give details. but we have told them their proposals, which include redundancies and some plant closures, are not acceptable to the unions at national level.”
Mr. Birch said the proposals had not been presented to the unions as being “negotiable”.
“They simply asked us here to tell us what they intend to do.” The corporation had not put its redundancy plans in the context of the current negotiations on a new wages structure. Asked about B.L.M.C.’s financial position, Mr. Birch said, “They obviously have their troubles, but no more than the rest of the car industry. We think these cuts are unnecessary and we intend to oppose them. That will be our advice to members.”
Mr. Moss Evans, national engineering officer of the Transport & General Workers’ Union, recalled that in 1966 the then British Motor Corporation had announced labour cuts of 12,000 on the Austin-Morris operations. The unions had offered to implement “work sharing”- with a-three-day working week, as an alternative. but this had been rejected.
After the company’s plans had been contested through the engineering industry disputes procedure the cuts had been made. But by the following year most of the workers had been reinstated. Mr. Evans said that if the present proposals were opposed at plant level, the disputes procedure would again be invoked. The unions would probably call a further meeting of national officers through the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions to discuss the redundancy plans.
Management representatives stressed to the union leaders that although the corporation’s present Position was “acute” steps were being taken to improve it. There was a need to modernize the Austin-Morris operation; this must include the shutdown of some older establishments. The redundancy shocks and the inevitable threat of shop floor unrest come at a time when British Leyland is making a determined bid to reform its whole labour relations strategy.
Mr. Lowry, who joined B.L.M.C. earlier this year after being labour relations director of the E.E.F., would also like to reach agreement with the unions about a “specially tailored” disputes procedure. With the new pay proposals already under discussion in the largest of the Austin-Morris centres at Longbridge and Cowley, the. corporation apparently felt obliged to bring its manning problems out into the open to forestall union accusations of “double dealing”.