Talks aimed at settling the British Leyland dispute collapsed last night and the company made it clear that it was prepared to bring in alternative labour to continue production of the mini Metro. During 10 hours of negotiations in London both sides failed to agree on the composition and powers of a proposed inquiry into the cause of the dispute. Talks on dispute break down
By Donald Macintyre Labour Reporter
British Leyland made it clear that it is prepared to use alternative labour to continue mini Metro production after the collapse last night of talks aimed at settling the strike of 1,500 Longbridge workers. In spite of the efforts of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service during 10 hours of talks in London yesterday, the two sides failed to agree on the composition and powers of a proposed inquiry into the cause of the dispute; the dismissal of eight members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) for their alleged involvement in disturbances at the plant last month.
The management, which has made it clear that the strikers face dismissal without redundancy provision if they do not report for work when the plant reopens on Monday, is at the same time recalling 4,500 employees laid off because of the 11-day old dispute. It also indicated that it would implement plans to transfer workers from Allegro assembly to do the missing men’s jobs and would be prepared to re-train non-assembly workers to build the Metro, if the men did not report for work. In the longer-term, officials said last night, BL would be prepared both to transfer employees from other plants within the company or to recruit new workers for Longbridge from the pool of unemployed people in the west Midlands.
At a mass meeting in Birmingham on Sunday morning the strikers will be given a full report of yesterday’s talks which finally foundered on the question of whether an independent outsider with full voting powers should, as the TGWU demanded, chair the inquiry. The company accepted an Acas proposal for a fresh joint investigation into the disturbances under the chairmanship of one of the agency’s own officers. But BL made it clear that it was not prepared to vest an outsider with the final say on a question of discipline at the company’s biggest plant.
Mr James Mortimer, chairman of Acas, said he was very disappointed at the outcome of the talks, most of which were held in separate rooms with Mr Denis Boyd, the chief conciliator, shuttling between the two sides. Asked what hope he saw of a settlement, Mr Mortimer said: “I would have thought it was very small because we have explored all the various possibilities and there was a fundamental difference on the’ sticking point.”
Asked how immediate the threat would be if the strike continued after Monday, Mr Geoffrey Armstrong, industrial relations director of BL Cars, said it was a matter “of days rather than weeks “.
“The company does not have unlimited resources. We shall run out of money very quickly.” Mr Grenville Hawley, TGWU national officer, said that the union side had “moved a good deal ” during the talks and added: “We would have hoped that there would have been a settlement today.” Mr Hawley, whose union has given official backing to the strike, said that no further meetings between the two sides were planned but that he hoped ” common sense would prevail before Monday.
The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, which was represented at the talks by Mr Kenneth Cure, Midland executive member, has a refrained from offering concrete support in the dispute and is unlikely to do so at its next executive meeting on Tuesday as no formal request for such support has been received from the union’s district committee.
Mr Armstrong said last night that the dispute would “not be helping” the company to raise the public funds needed to “support the recovery plans of BL “.
Of the breakdown in the talks Mr Armstrong said the company had not been prepared to hand over a decision which affected discipline and safety at the Longbridge plant to an outsider. In a letter sent to the homes of all workers on strike Mr Stanley Mullet, operations director at Longbridge, has given a warning that without a return to normal working immediately after the Christmas holiday the men will be “considered to have repudiated” their contracts of employment.
Experienced staff could fill gap Mr Armstrong told the Press Association last night: “We will have to look for people with experience to fill the gaps that are left. There are a quarter of a million unemployed people in the West Midlands area and we are one of the very few bright spots for jobs. It seems criminal to take that away.”