HOME NEWS By Donald Macintyre Labour Reporter
British Leyland began its latest crucial gamble on shop-floor support yesterday by giving formal notice that it will impose its pay and conditions offer on the company’s 85,000 car workers from April 8.
The company decided to go over the heads of union negotiators and implement its controversial pay and conditions formula from the first working day after Easter. In a letter to the unions Mr Ray Horrocks, chief executive of BL Cars, gave a warning that after the breakdown of day long negotiations last Tuesday “we have no practical alternative but to implement the proposals. We are giving you five days notice of our intention to do so.”
In a stern warning clearly designed to avoid industrial action, Mr Horrocks added; “We are seeking your cooperation and we want very much to avoid conflict at a difficult time. But we are making it clear that any action employees may take to prevent implementation will be dealt with firmly and those who cause disruption will be subject to disciplinary action.”
The company hopes that there will be little shopfloor reaction despite the workforce’s rejection of broadly the same offer in a ballot earlier this year. The offer, apart from minor modifications, is the one first put to union negotiators five months ago and yields in exchange for widespread changes in working practices basic increases of between 5 and 10 per cent and the opportunity of bonus earnings of up to £15 a week. The management is likelv to “deem” that those workers who turn up normally after the Easter break have effectively agreed to the terms attached to the pay formula, although that was not made clear in the letter yesterday.
Union officials expect that the basic increases will go into wage packets shortly afterwards, though it may take longer to process back pay ranging up to between £250 to £300 under the deal backdated to last November. The implementation of changes in working practice will vary between sections of the company and are expected to be introduced at plant level over a period. At their core are moves for interdepartmental and inter-trade flexibility and an end to traditional “mutuality” where key issues like manning levels are agreed jointly by management and local union officials. Union officials are watching the position carefully.
They hinted after Monday’s breakdown that disruption was likely, though there have been no hard indications of unrest yet.