Adequate stocks needed for car’s European launch in the spring, chairman says
By Clifford Webb Midland Industrial Correspondent
BL is recruiting 1000 workers to boost production of the Metro in readiness for entering Continental markets in the spring. Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman of BL, has given strict orders that adequate stocks must be available to avoid the mistakes of past European launches. Supply shortages too often have prevented BL from benefiting from the favourable impact that new models make on European motoring journalists and dealers.
This is the first significant recruitment in the state-owned motor group for over two years. During that time it has reduced its labour force by 30,000, with more redundancies to come at some plants.
But there were warnings of a strike late yesterday after BL confirmed the dismissal of eight Longbridge workers said to have been involved in a near riot at the plant on November 21. BL managers had considered appeals from the men for two days. They included four shop stewards. A ninth employee, who was also dismissed at the original disciplinary hearing a fortnight ago, was reinstated but will serve a two-week suspension as will two other employees.
The dismissals led to a strike on December 3 which halted production of the Metro. It was called off the following day pending the result of the appeals. Last night colleagues of the dismissed shop stewards said feelings were running high in the plant and could lead to renewed strike action today.
Priority for the new Longbridge jobs is being given to workers already under notice at other BL works in the West Midlands, including Common Lane, Birmingham, where the Sherpa van is produced and at Rover cars in Solihull. The extra Metro production will be necessary if the home market is not to be denuded to provide stocks for the European launch. The Metro is now taking 9 per cent of the United Kingdom market and accounts for nearly half BL’s total car sales.
Last week it reached its weekly output target of 3,500, nearly one month early. Fears that the new car’s success would be at the expense of the company’s present small cars, the Mini and the Allegro, have proved groundless. Output of both these models has been increased to keep pace with demand.
Mini production is 1150 a week and Allegro nearly 600. As a result, combined production at Longbridge reached 5,220 last week, the highest since March 1975. A BL spokesman said “We have already taken on about 350 additional workers at Longbridge and more are being interviewed. Some of the vacancies are for skilled men, such as sheet metalworkers and diemakers, for which there is still a shortage. Because they are now hitting production targets the Longbridge workers can look forward to increased bonus payments which are now reaching about £10 a week.”
Executives at BL are careful to point out that Metro’s present 9 per cent share is due to “exceptional circumstances” prevailing in the market . By this they mean that the Japanese have virtually withdrawn since mid-November to try to offset mounting criticism about their failure to stay below the 11 per cent “gentlemen’s” agreement for 1980. But they have considerable stocks already in the country ready for a big comeback in January.