By David Benson, Ashley Walton and John Burns
Fifty thousand Leyland car workers are to be laid off because of a huge slump in sales. The lay-offs will start in the next few days. Union leaders will be told today which factories will be hit. The shock move came as the ailing company’s share of the market fell to a new low of 15 per cent. The lay-offs are likely to last for weeks rather than days. Engineering union boss Mr Terry Duffy said last night: “This is an absolute tragedy a sad day for everyone at Leyland and for the whole of Britain.”
News of the lay-offs came on the eve of the result of the union ballot on the car giant’s five per cent pay offer. And as the company faced a possible strike over its refusal to reinstate Longbridge shop steward Derek ” Red Robbo ” Robinson. Five thousand engineers at Longbridge, Birmingham, are among those likely to be laid off. More than 20,000 men at Cowley, Oxford , will be affected, and over 10,000 at the Rover plant at Solihull. Five thousand more men will be laid off at the Canley factory in Coventry where Triumph sports cars and Dolomites are produced.
Leyland management hope their “Buy British” advertising campaign through February and March will boost the flagging sales figures.
Mr Doug Hobbs, Cowley engineering union convenor said last night: “I was at a football club committe meeting tonight with eight other men who work for Leyland at Cowley. I was the only one driving a Leyland car. It’s diabolical, but it says it all.”
Union boss Mr Terry Duffy echoed: ” It’s no good telling everyone to buy British if someone outside is producing a good quality car at a reasonable price.”
Mr Eric Bone, national officer for the Transport and General Workers Union said: “Leyland has guaranteed to pay the men at least 80 per cent of their wages in a lay off like this.”
First news of the lay off was given last night by BL’s managing director, Mr Ray Horrocks. He told of the sales slump in a letter to Transport and General Workers Union national secretary Mr Grenville Hawley. He said the lay-offs “were the only way to adjust our working capital to market demands.”
Mr Horrocks said it would be some time before the success of Leyland’s “Buy British” campaign was known. Sales figures for early February were “promising.” Mr Hawley who is chairman of the Leyland Joint Negotiating Committee, said of the lay-offs announcement :
“It won’t’ get a friendly welcome from the unions. It is significant all this has been revealed on the eve of the company pay ballot result. It is obviously an attempt to influence any decision over the ballot.”
Leyland’s parking lots are packed with stocks of unsold cars – particularly Princesses, Marinas , Maxis, Rovers and Triumph Dolomites. Despite all the problems and their low share of the total market BL still got three cars into the top ten best sellers last mouth. The Mini was No.4 , the Marina No.8 and the Allegro No.10. But a year ago half of the top selling cars came from BL .
A strike by 70 gearbox assemblers at BL Cardiff has stopped production of Rover saloons at Solihull and TR7 sports cars at Coventry.