By Edward Townsend
British Leyland yesterday took the first step in its plan to trim down its 175,000-strong labour force with the announcement that a 10 per cent reduction in salaried staff was needed at the Cowley and Abingdon plants. Letters have gone out to all 30,000. workers in the corporation’s body and assembly division, which includes plants at Oxford and Llanelli.
They call for a 7 per cent increase in efficiency from hourly paid workers. A 3 per cent increase is said to be needed at the MG plant at Abingdon. The staff reduction, which it is hoped will be achieved “as far as possible” by voluntary redundancy, could mean a cutback of about 700 white collar workers throughout the division. Discussions are to begin immediately, with union officials.
Yesterday’s announcement marked the first practical move by the company to curb its manning requirements in the face of the worldwide slump in car sales. It follows statements from Mr Pat Lowry, the BLMC industrial relations director, to national union officials last month that an urgent programme of economies was needed. Mr Lowry’s assurance that compulsory redundancies were not yet inevitable was repeated in the letters.
Mr John Symonds, the Cowley assembly plant director, said in the letterto his workers that a decision to retain surplus labour remained as long as demand did not fall for the Maxi and Marina models, now running at 1,000 and 4,250 a week respectively. The labour pool at Cowley is now about 1,000 strong. Mr Symonds re-emphasized the seriousness of the present financial position and underlined the need to produce every vehicle possible in order to finance future plans.
There was no doubt that they must improve their competitiveness. In every area of the corporation, at central, divisional and plant levels, similar critical reviews were taking place, he said. Management of the company’s power and transmission division, which includes the Midlands factories, have been meeting local union officials to spell out a similar message, although no cuts are yet planned. Shop stewards in the Midlands will hear at meetings on Monday that workers’ co-operation is needed if the current policy of natural wastage, including voluntary redundancy, is to continue.
Meanwhile, the strike by 8,500 workers at the truck and bus factories in Lancashire is continuing and a further mass meeting is not planned until July 17.