British Leyland yesterday denied that its Cowley car plant was a “skiver’s paradise”, as alleged earlier by Mr Graham Turner, a journalist and economist who has made a study of the company. It accused Mr Turner of “gross distortion”, but one of its executive admitted that there was a labour surplus at the plant.
Mr Turner said in a BBC radio interview that Cowley workers had told him that men in one department went to bed after as little as two hours of a night shift; one man sunbathed, at work, and there were stories of card schools and working “one hour on, one off “. Many men had said that the plant could function adequately with only half its present work force, he alleged.
The company replied that such a statement demonstrated Mr Turner’s ignorance of the realities of manufacturing. Mr David Buckle, Oxford district secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, also rejected Mr Turner’s allegation. But Mr Geoffrey Whalen, personnel director of British Leyland’s body and assembly divisions, said there was a pool of extra men who were not fully employed.
“We felt it right to retain them until we can find them new jobs “, he said. There were other reasons for some of the men not having enough work, including a shortage of parts because of the three-day week. Mr Jack Reid, who used to work in the plant’s trim shop, agreed with Mr Turner.
“I used to go in at 8 pm for the night shift and by 12.30 I could go to sleep until 6.30 in the morning”, he said yesterday.
“There were too many people in the shop and there was always someone to do my work while I slept. Those who did not want to sleep played cards, draughts or shove ha’penny.”
Mr Roy Gatehouse who still works at the plant disagreed. He said: “The situation at the moment, where more men than usual have not got much work to do, is temporary. It has been created by changeovers to new models and obviously it won’t last for ever. To say that it’s a skiver’s paradise is ludicrous.”
Mr Turner said in the interview that he had based his remarks on information from a relatively few men “who might be rogues and liars, but I believe them to be honest men, men who actually would be happier to work much harder than they are working”.
A worker had told him about a particular night shift supposed to start about 10 pm. The men would usually knock off at about 1 am and go to bed for the rest of the shift. Another worker had said: “Thats not true. We normally go to bed about midnight.”
British Leyland said Mr Turner’s comments could cause only bitterness and resentment in a community that was doing a great deal to help to support the country’s economy.