By Donald Macintyre Labour Reporter
British Leyland last night declared itself determined not to bow to union pressure by improving a pay offer rejected by nearly six to four in a secret ballot of the company’s 85,000 car workers. In an 82 per cent poll, the results of which were announced yesterday, the workforce voted by 41,422 to 28,623 to back their negotiators’ rejection of an offer yielding basic increases of between 5 and 10 per cent.
Mr Grenville Hawley, Transport and General Workers’ Union automotive group secretary, announcing the result in London, made clear that he regarded it as a clear mandate for the unions to insist on a substantial improvement in the offer when they meet the management in the Midlands on Friday. The company, seizing on the fact that “less than one in two of those eligible” had voted for rejection, said bluntly, almost immediately after the announcement, that it ” does not have the cash to improve its offer “.
Although the ballot results and the company’s response, coming after the shock of Monday night’s announcement of imminent mass lay-offs, have helped to plunge management union relations into still deeper disarray, there was no immediate threat of a strike. Mr Hawley said: “We will do everything possible to try to resolve our differences with the company without harmful effects to our members. Obviously a strike is harmful to our members. If there is an all-out strike it will not be for want of our trying to prevent it.”
The vote, which he described as “overwhelmingly in support of their negotiators “, had been achieved, he said, despite a “campaign of interference” by the company in the ballot which had even obstructed the holding of meetings to discuss the negotiators’ rejection of the offer Mr Hawley said: “Arguably we could say that they were trying to interfere with the decision. Unfortunately we have to say that this has done nothing to influence our opinion on the holding of ballots in factories ”
However, Mr Raymond Horrocks, chief executive of Leyland Cars, said: “BL notes that the unions failed to get support from a majority of the BL Cars’ hourly paid workforce eligible to vote. Clearly, with only 49 per cent backing the negotiators . . . there is now no mandate for strike action.”
It was “almost unprecedented for a negotiating team to receive such scant support when seeking an overwhelming vote from its members on a wage- related issue.”
Mr Hawley, pointing to the high turnout and the majorities of 59 per cent and 41 per cent in the vote, counted by the Electoral Reform Society, said: “If we accepted Sir Michael Edwardes’s version of democracy we would never have a government after a general election.”
BL chairman attacked for lay-off scheme
By Clifford Webb
Trade unionists responded angrily last night to the news that tens of thousands of BL workers are to be laid off because of the company’s falling sales. Most of the anger was directed at Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, and workers fear that he will soon announce redundancies above the 25,000, and 13 plant closures, in his recovery plan. BL will not give details of the total to be laid off until shop stewards have been told at each of the affected plants.
Mr William Jordan, Midlands divisional organizer of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, said: “I think any other manager would have resigned by now. This has exposed the myth that he is the saviour of the car industry”.
Mr John Barker, the Transport and General Workers’ Union official at Longbridge, said: “If this trend continues the unemployment rate in the West Midlands will rise well above the national average. It is clear that Edwardes is not the right man for the job because he is not a motor-car man.”
On this day
Nearly 6,000 BL workers were laid off last night because of unofficial strikes at two plants. A walk-out by 70 gearbox assemblers at BL Cardiff stopped production of Rover saloons at Solihull and TR7 sports cars at Triumph Coventry. At Jaguar Coventry a strike by 400 workers protesting at a new wage-grading system almost halted production of saloons.