Lightning strikes by two small groups of workers at British Leyland’s Longbridge car plant yesterday stopped all assembly work, led to 5,000 men being laid off and threatened three years of negotiations on a new pay. structure for the 8,000 indirect workers at the plant. The trouble began at midday when 137 drivers walked out in protest at delays in meeting their claim for another £4 a week.
They were followed by 80 employees in a paintshop who are dependent on the drivers to keep them supplied with paint. As a result the company began laying off assembly workers and by last night all car and engine assembly was at a standstill. A spokesman for the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland said last night: “We wish to emphasize that this stoppage has occurred while negotiations are in progress on a new pay deal for all the 8000 indirect workers at Longbridge.”
The majoritv of these workers have signified, as a result of a ballot, their willingrness to finalize the agreement on the basis of proposals offered. At the heart of the present dispute is the tool-room. Workers there boycotted last week’s ballot on two alternative schemes proposed by management. These were based on the result of a vast job evaluation exercise and are designed to reduce the present 100 grades of indirect workers to a handful.
The tool-room men insist that theirs is a special case and are refusing to be classified along wish other workers. Their boycott has angered the drivers who have twice postponed strike action in support of their pay claim to enable union officials to proceed with the plant-wide negotiations. They insist that a small minority are holding up wage increases for the majority for purely selfish reasons.
Lord Stokes, chairman of British Leyland, described as “impertinent” the remarks by Mr. Henry Ford about the British motor industry. He said the picture of present-day British industry was painted much blacker than it really was and one might get the impression that the motor industry was continually locked in industrial strife. In fact the industry produced 1m. cars a year and could not do this if everyone was always on strike.
Leyland cut output by third in Australia
British Leyland’s Australian operation is in trouble, plagued by soaring costs, falling sales and a shortage of components from Britain. British Leyland Australia’s fourth largest car manufacturer, have been forced to cut their daily car production by a third. The current position is sufficiently serious for Mr. Bob Johnson, the commercial manager to issue a statement in response to rumours that they were planning major redundancies or even closing the plant in Sydney.
Mr. Johnson said Leyland were tightening their belt by not replacing staff wastage. Leyland’s grip on the total Australian vehicle market has slipped to 7.3 per cent for the first two months of this year. compared with 9.1 per cent for the corresponding period last year and 15 per cent only a few years ago. On current sales, British Leyland face a 25 per cent drop in the number of vehicles they plan to build. Two new models are only doing half as well as forecast. Mr. Johnson blamed the shortage of components from both local and British manufacturers