By David Felton Labour Reporter The two largest unions at British Leyland last night pulled back from calling a strike next week in protest at the company’s decision to impose unilaterally its pay and conditions offer; but one gave a warning that it would take action if its members were disciplined for not accepting new working practices.
Leaders of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers voted unanimously to accept the 5 per cent to 10 per cent offer, which is linked to wide ranging changes in working practices. However, the Transport and General Workers’ Union which has the largest membership among the company’s 86,000 manual workers, said it would “take every available step to support our members’ interests should disciplinary procedures be instituted “.
BL told the unions 10 days ago that after five months of negotiations on the package, it was going to impose the deal. The company said workers returning from the Easter holiday next Tuesday would be deemed to have accepted the new flexible working arrangements. After the company’s decision, the BL Cars’ joint negotiating committee, which comprises shop stewards from 11 unions, called on individual union executives to call official strikes from next Tuesday.
The TGWU did not go that far; but Mr Grenville Hawley, union national secretary responsible for the motor industry, said in a letter to Mr Ray Horrocks, managing director of BL Cars: “I must advise you that those (new working) conditions do not apply to members of this organization until agreement freely entered into is established and signed by the TGWU.”
His letter says that the union does not accept that workers clocking in next Tuesday morning are “deemed” to have accepted the company’s offer. He hoped “that even at this 11th hour the proposals made by the trade unions as a basis for further negotiations, in an effort to avoid possible damaging conflict taking place, would have commended themselves to you “.
The unions had asked for 10 per cent increase across the board with the productivity proposals being referred for plant by plant negotiations. The new offer favours craftsmen, who are mainly members of the AUEW. Mr Terence Duffy, its president, said yesterday that it had been decided to accept the offer after consulting the union membership who had voted by a two-to-one ratio not to take strike action. He said the working practices which were being proposed by the company were no different from those operating at other car factories.
“After so many months of frustration the executive of my union decided it was time to grasp the nettle “, he said. Mr Duffy said he realized the union could be “taking a calculated risk ” but he hoped the company would not set “insurmountable production targets”.
The AUEW executive decision was to “instruct our members to work normally after Easter and operate the terms of the company’s package”.
The union has about 23,000 members at BL and Mr Duffy was satisfied they had all had the chance to state their views.